Belfast Telegraph

Campaign for NI libel law reform is stepped up

Academics, journalists and lawyers gather at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
Academics, journalists and lawyers gather at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

By Adrian Rutherford

The pressure to reform Northern Ireland's outdated libel laws will continue, a conference heard yesterday.

The event in Belfast was organised by the Libel Reform Campaign, a group lobbying for an update of defamation law here and in Scotland.

It warned that investment in Northern Ireland by tech firms may be put off by the libel laws.

Our libel legislation has not been substantively reformed for 175 years, despite the internet and the surge in online communication.

The 2013 Defamation Act introduced the first major reform of the UK's defamation laws since 1843, but it was not extended to here.

As the Belfast Telegraph reported yesterday, Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt plans to introduce a Private Member's Bill if Stormont returns to address the situation.

He said there was an onus on a new Executive to adopt recommendations arising from a Department of Finance report in 2016, including better protection in law for free speech and publishing things which are in the public interest.

Yesterday's conference heard of other proposals to keep up the pressure for reform.

Campaigners plan a comedy event in Belfast to increase public awareness of the need for reform.

And the possibility of amending legislation in the House of Lords to extend the Defamation Act 2013 to Northern Ireland was also discussed.

Mike Harris of the Libel Reform Campaign said: "Without reform, the chill on free speech in Northern Ireland will continue and the rich and powerful will be able to use the law to their own advantage."

Belfast Telegraph

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