Belfast Telegraph

Act's rejection an affront to democracy and enterprise

By Paul Connolly

There were some eloquent words in the House of Lords yesterday about the dangers to Northern Ireland from the Executive's refusal to transfer the UK Defamation Act to the province.

Lord Lester – viewed as pretty much the architect of the Act, which has made the UK's libel laws fit for purpose in the 21st century – was, as usual, persuasive in his arguments and faultless in his logic. The contribution from Lord Black of Brentwood was also extremely incisive, warning of the many dangers posed by the Executive's short-sighted approach to this matter. Stormont's intransigence is wrong on so many levels that there is not space in this column to review it all.

Suffice to say, it could create a libel tourism market that will make Northern Ireland a laughing stock among advanced democracies and it will put off forever inward investment of US technology giants like Google and Yahoo, which have been so successfully attracted to Dublin. But, most importantly in a province which has virtually no Opposition, no scrutinising chamber and very weak local government, it will undermine civil society's ability to scrutinise those in power.

The Defamation Act is very balanced, protecting people's right to sue if they have been badly maligned, while also safeguarding freedom of speech.

* An apology is owed to Belfast Telegraph readers who rang one of the crossword hotlines only to be met with the wrong answers.

Several angry readers called to complain that, when they phoned this premium service number, the solutions to the clues were from the previous week. This is inexcusable in any circumstances, but the fact that the phone call costs money makes it even less so.

The crosswords are provided to us by the Press Association, but the phone line is operated by another company, which has asked us to pass on its apologies for the error.

It says the fault was rectified immediately it was drawn to its attention.

The company has also undertaken to refund any caller who lost money. If this happened to you, feel free to contact me and I will negotiate a refund on your behalf.

We will need documentary evidence of loss; for example, an extract from your phone bill – although I guess, if this is not available, the service provider may have a way of cross-checking its own records.

The Belfast Telegraph would like to say sorry to anyone who may have been left out of pocket and you have our assurances that we will keep a close watch on this matter in future.

Belfast Telegraph


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