Ian Rankin, Christopher Brookmyre and Karen Campbell are among the 150 Scottish authors, journalists and activists calling on the Scottish Government to bring forward a bill to reform defamation law in Scotland.
A letter has been sent to Annabelle Ewing MSP, the Minister of Community Safety and Legal Affairs, urging her to bring the draft bill published in December by the Scottish Law Commission into Parliament "without delay" and begin the process of scrutiny and voting the bill into law.
The Scottish Law Commission recommended reform and modernisation of Scotland’s defamation law – which has remained largely untouched since 1996 – in its final report published in December, which included the draft bill. The letter calls on the Scottish Government to “back defamation reform by bringing forward a bill that will protect free expression across Scotland”.
Reforms outlined by the Scottish Law Commission represent "significant steps forward" for Scots Law, said the signatories. They include the establishment of a serious harm threshold to dissuade trivial cases, or those brought solely to silence criticism; a statutory defence of publication on a matter of public interest; a single publication rule to ensure the time period within which an action can be brought does not restart every time a link or post is shared or viewed online and establishing in statute the principle that public authorities cannot bring actions against individuals.
Alongside Rankin, Campbell and Brookmyre, signatories include David Pratt, Merryn Glover, Lady Joyce Caplan and the 2017 John Maddox prize winner, Dr. Riko Muranaka, who has been the target of legal action in Japan for her work to put the evidence for the safety of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine clearly before the public. The letter states that “without reform these laws will continue to threaten civic debate and journalistic endeavour through the continued risk of legal action.”
Nik Williams, project manager at free speech group Scottish PEN, said that dependening on the existing defamation laws to govern online expression is "akin to expecting telegram laws to adequately protect smartphone users".
“Without reform, our laws will remain outdated and unable to robustly protect people who speak out across Scotland, especially via online channels", he said. "With the reforms put forward by the Scottish Law Commission we can start to modernise and strengthen laws in Scotland to protect free expression for all, irrespective of wealth, influence or access to legal representation.”
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