PA welcomes MoJ's libel reforms

<p>The Publishers Association has backed the need for &quot;urgent&quot; reform of English libel laws, which the Ministry of Justice today (23rd March) pledged to &quot;take forward in the next parliament&quot;.</p><p>Justice secretary Jack Straw said in an announcement that new legislation would be enacted to tackle libel tourism and provide &quot;greater protection&quot; for investigative journalism, as well as improving the rules covering defamation on the internet. </p><p>The reforms include enforcing a single, rather than multiple, publication rule, meaning claimants can only bring a single case against publication, rather than one for every instance of a book or article being bought or downloaded. </p><p>They also include asking the Civil Procedure Rule Committee to consider tightening the rules about cases brought from outside England and Wales, and giving &quot;consideration&quot; to a statutory defence in protection of public interest articles and books. </p><p>The changes could potentially be introduced in a proposed Libel Reform Bill in the next parliament. </p><p>Straw said: &ldquo;Our current libel laws need to achieve a fair balance between allowing people to protect their reputations from defamatory allegations, and ensuring that freedom of expression and the public&rsquo;s right to know on matters of public interest are not unnecessarily impeded. At the moment, we believe that the balance is tilted too much in favour of the former. </p><p>&quot;The changes announced today, together with other steps already taken by the government, will redress this imbalance.&quot; </p><p>Simon Juden, chief executive of the PA, said: &quot;We have strenuously argued for some time that current English libel laws need urgent reform. The government should legislate for clearer lines of defence, as publishers and writers are currently being stifled by laws which force them to prove why their works are not defamatory... We therefore welcome many of the recommendations from the Working Group on libel, which demonstrate that these outdated laws are a matter of serious public concern that warrant investigation and action.&quot;</p><p>He added: &ldquo;As they currently stand, these laws have serious ramifications for authors and book publishers. The huge investment of time, effort and finance which goes into publishing a book can be completely undermined by a single libel action, should a claimant decide to make even a speculative allegation of defamation. </p><p>&quot;Publishers are constantly exposed to significant levels of risk, and are increasingly reluctant or unable to fight defamation cases in court due to the costs, which in turn has a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression.&quot;</p><p>Juden highlighted a recent announcement from the MoJ, putting forward the proposal to cap lawyers&#39; success fees at 10%, saying &quot;the current system based on no win no fee has had a chilling effect on free speech&quot;. </p><p>He added: &quot;The huge costs these fees incur mean that publishers and writers would rather settle than fight the case in court &ndash; regardless of whether they win or lose. The result is that both fair comment and investigative journalism risk being seriously inhibited.&quot;</p>