Campaign for libel law reform

 

We welcome Lord Lester QC's Defamation Bill for the reform of England's libel laws. The Bill addresses many of the issues highlighted by the Libel Reform Coalition, which Mumsnet supports - including a statutory defence for responsible publication on a matter of public interest, and a clarification of the defences of justification and fair comment.

Under the terms of the Bill, claimants will need to prove that their reputation was damaged before they can launch a libel case, and corporations will have to prove financial damage before they can sue.

We're particularly pleased that the Bill addresses the rise of the internet, and the present culture of online debate - including the responsibility of forum hosts for content posted on their sites.  

Libel Law Reform Coalition logoLord Lester has explained why he felt compelled to table the Bill - and Simon Singh, the author and scientist who recently spent two years and thousands of pounds defending his right to 'fair comment', has also given his reaction to the Bill.

After the Bill's second reading in the House of Lords, Minister of State for Justice Lord McNally announced that the government will be introducing its own defamation legislation to Parliament within a year. It is expected that this new legislation will build upon the foundations laid down by Lord Lester's Bill. Mumsnet will continue to feed in to the consultation process, particularly regarding our concerns about online hosts of third-party comments, and the need for a defence of parody (the 'humour' defence). 

As a member of the Libel Reform Coalition, Mumsnet welcomes this serious engagement with the need for reform of our antiquated libel laws. We applaud the parts of the bill that seek to protect academic and scientific freedoms, and provide greater legal cover for responsible journalism.

However, we are sorry to see that the bill does not provide explicit cover for hosts of third-party comments. Sites such as Mumsnet provide a great deal of authored editorial information, as well as hosting unmoderated discussion; as such, we are concerned that our status as innocent facilitators (as opposed to editors or primary publishers) is unclear.

A statement in the bill that "hosts of unmoderated third-party comments will be considered innocent facilitators" would clarify matters.

If uncertainty remains and the bill becomes law, we are concerned that Mumsnet would have to continue to remove potentially defamatory material, even where we are not convinced that it represents a breach of the law, thus severely curtailing freedom of speech. 

Last updated: 17-Mar-2011 at 10:38 AM