Change English libel law, urge PEN and Index

<p>English libel law should be changed to put the onus on the claimant to prove damage, with the sum awarded in damages capped at &pound;10,000, according to a report launched today by English PEN and Index on Censorship.<br /> <br />The wide-ranging report, &quot;Free Speech is Not For Sale&quot;, follows a <a href="../news/82385-libel-laws-distort-publishing.html" target="_blank">year-long inquiry into libel law</a>, in which publishers were consulted along with bloggers, journalists, lawyers and NGOs. In it, Index on Censorship editor Jo Glanville and PEN director Jonathan Heawood conclude that English libel<br />law in its present form &quot;has a negative impact on freedom of expression both in the UK and around the world&quot; and is in urgent need of reform.<br /> <br />The law currently requires the defendant to do the bulk of the work to prove the allegations they have made are true, fair comment or protected by privilege. The report recommends a shift so that instead the claimant should have to demonstrate damage or falsity to win their case. It also recommends that damages be capped at &pound;10,000 to prevent opportunist claims, saying: &quot;The chief remedy in libel should be an apology, not financial reward.&quot;<br /> <br />The report also suggests mandatory capping of costs to bring down the &quot;prohibitive&quot; potential cost of defending a libel action, which can force publishers to settle out of court, as well as measures to prevent &quot;libel tourism&quot; by only allowing cases to be heard if 10% or more of the total number of copies of the publication in question have been distributed in the UK. </p><p>The public interest defence in libel law should be strengthened, and the definition of &quot;fair comment&quot; extended, the report argues. <br /> <br />Meanwhile libel law needs to reflect the media transformation caused by the internet, and interactive online services and interactive chat should be exempted from liability, say Glanville and Heawood. </p><p>The report states: &quot;The host should not be liable when material on their site is from a third party.<br />This is an important distinction from traditional publishing and would be an enlightened reform, recognising that internet publishers do not always exercise editorial control, but should be treated more like distributors.&quot;</p><p>For more information, go to <a href="http://www.libelreform.org/" target="_blank">www.libelreform.org </a> </p>