Science writer Simon Singh is among those who have backed the Libel Reform Campaign for reform of libel laws in Northern Ireland.
In a survey conducted to support the work of the Northern Ireland Law Commission, the campaign found “overwhelming support for the full adoption of the Defamation Act 2013 to reform Northern Ireland’s antiquated law of libel, which fails to protect writers, academics and scientists who speak out and criticise the rich and powerful”.
Among the writers backing the campaign is Singh, who was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association for comments he made in an article written for the Guardian. The case was eventually dropped.
He said: “I was sued for libel and lost two years of my life, just because I was raising the alarm on a matter of children's health. I wouldn't wish this on anyone, and this sort of law only means that fewer people speak out and matters of public concern are covered up. That's why it's so important that six years after this campaign began, we finally get the reform of libel that both the public and journalists want. Unless the law is reformed, other science writers or academics could be chilled in Northern Ireland from speaking out in the public interest. That's wrong and dangerous.”
The campaign is calling for the Northern Ireland Law Commission, which is currently holding a consultation on defamation laws, “to act with speed and publish the results of its consultation, before the Commission is abolished at the end of March”.
Jo Glanville, the director of English PEN, said: “The public support for libel reform in Northern Ireland is clear. The response to the Law Commission's consultation should be published at the earliest opportunity so that there is no further delay in bringing overdue reform to Northern Ireland.”
The campaign’s petition has been signed by 747 people, and states that the Northern Ireland Assembly should apply the Defamation Act immediately if the consultation shows support for reform.
The Libel Reform Campaign also submitted evidence to the Law Commission to make the case for reform.