Criminal libel abolished

Coroners and Justice Act 2009 finally abolishes common law libel offences

Section 73 of the new Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which came into force today, has abolished the common law offences of sedition, seditious libel, obscene libel and defamatory libel. 

The abolition of such offences had been supported by many public figures.  Human rights group in particular, such as Liberty, believe that such offences have been used by governments across the world to silence their critics.  Many believed that the existence of these offences in statute in this jurisdiction continued to legitimise its use by foreign rulers. 

As stated by Justice Minister Claire Ward: "Sedition and seditious and defamatory libel are arcane offences – from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right it is today… The existence of these obsolete offences in this country had been used by other countries as justification for the retention of similar laws which have been actively used to suppress political dissent and restrict press freedom… Abolishing these offences will allow the UK to take a lead in challenging similar laws in other countries, where they are used to suppress free speech."

The move for abolition was led by Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP, who originally tabled the amendment.