New consultation on defamation law

Ministry of Justice plans wide-ranging review

During a debate about the United Kingdom’s defamation laws in Parliament, Bridget Prentice, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice announced that the Government was set to launch a consultation to consider several aspects of defamation law and procedure in 2009.

The Junior Minister announced that there would be a Government consultation on defamatory publication on the internet, the abolition of criminal libel, and the high cost of defamation proceedings.

The Minister’s announcement that there would be a consultation followed a debate in which Dennis MacShanne, a former President of the National Union of Journalists, called for small claims courts for libel litigation and several MPs referred to the recently-announced investigation into UK libel laws being prepared by the groups PEN and Index on Censorship.

Mr MacShane also attacked the practice of “libel tourism,” as he called it, as “an international scandal.” He referred in this context to a number of cases, including Mahfouz v Ehrenfeld, Ghannouchi v al-Arabiya and Kaupthing v Ekstra Bladet. Several US states have followed New York’s lead in enacting legislation preventing the enforcement of UK libel judgements and federal legislation is expected to be enacted in 2009.

The announcement of the Government consultation comes shortly after a decision by the House of Commons culture, media and sport Select Committee to review media law.