Authors call on leaders to pass defamation bill

Authors call on leaders to pass defamation bill

Leading authors including Julian Barnes [pictured], Margaret Drabble, Stephen Fry, Ian McEwan and Tom Stoppard have written an open letter to the prime minister and party leaders calling on them to "honour [their] commitment" to ensuring the defamation bill becomes law.

In the open letter to prime minister David Cameron, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Milliband, the authors said they were "deeply concerned" the bill could be scrapped due to it having become entangled with the Leveson report on press regulation.

A new clause in the defamation bill has introduced aspects of Leveson's recommendations into the bill, and there are concerns the government could drop the bill to prevent Leveson's proposals being enacted.

The letter states: "The defamation bill is not a suitable vehicle for the wider proposals of press regulation—as Lord Justice Leveson himself noted, libel did not form part of his terms of reference. It is therefore entirely inappropriate, and even reckless, for libel reform to be sacrificed to the current political stalemate. The bill offers an opportunity for reform that we cannot afford to miss."

It urges all three parties to honour the pledge made in their manifestos, restated in the government's coalition agreement, to make the bill law.

The defamation bill is currently in the final stages of the legislative process, having taken three years to reach that point.

The letter, which was also signed by authors including William Boyd, Howard Jacobson, Susie Orbach, Will Self and Claire Tomalin, argued that the UK's libel laws are "not just a national disgrace, but an international concern . . . The defamation bill promises to bring libel law into the 21st century by providing effective defences for online publication, it will stop corporations from bullying individuals into silence, put an end to trivial and vexatious claims, and introduce a long overdue public interest defence."