PEN and IOC call for mediation in defamation cases

Mediation should be heavily incentivised by the courts as a way to deal with defamation cases, in an alternative to the current High Court process, English PEN and Index on Censorship have said.

An interim report  launched by the two organisations yesterday (6th October) also proposes the use of early neutral resolution (ENE), a process which offers an early indication of the outcome of a case before weeks of costly legal action.

The measures are being proposed as part of the project to reform libel law and procedure, with an 18th November deadline for feedback. Meanwhile the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill, chaired by Lord Mawhinney, is preparing to deliver its own report, into changes to the law itself, later this month.

Lord McNally, minister of state for the Ministry of Justice, said the target for libel reformers was now to get a Bill as a piece of named legislation in the next Queen's speech. "It's never a done deal—there are always competing candidates," he said. "But we have a good chance. We need support and for the Libel Reform Campaign to strap on its lobbying armour one more time."

PEN director Jonathan Heawood said he had worked with the Publishers Association to get a clearer picture of how the current situation with defamation affected publishers across the board. Two thirds of publishers told the PA they would not commission or publish a book about extremely powerful individuals where there was a risk of legal action, and one third said they wouldn't touch certain areas of business or finance, even if they felt a book is in the public interest, for the same reason. "If it affects the big conglomerates, it is devastating for smaller publishers," Heawood said.