Libel Reform: Defamation Bill – Third reading: House of Lords… again

Dear [MP],

Thank you for your e-mail of 20 February 2013, as provided by your Caseworker, XXX, in response to mine of 12 February.

May I commence by stating that this response is disappointing? With the exception of the brief final paragraph, it is copy-pasted entirely from the text of a letter from Lord McNally of 18 July 2012, forwarded to me by yourself, following my previous communications (e-mails: 11 and 18 June 2012) to you on the Libel Reform Campaign and the Defamation Bill. That I have written previously to you (and your predecessor) on this matter should suggest that I have a genuine interest. I already understand the need for reform, as I also appreciate the necessity to protect people from unwarranted defamation. I am a scientist and blogger who has followed (and indeed frequently written on) this matter with interest since the Simon Singh-BCA episode. As such, I did not write to be (re-)provided with a summary background to this Bill, nor a promotional blurb that attempts to gloss over its still serious shortcomings – particularly the latest developments.

I will not here re-address the ‘serious harm’ test (as I brought to your attention in my correspondence of 11 June 2012), even though Section 1 of the Amended Bill, and the Explanatory Notes ‘as brought from the House of Commons on 21st September 2012’ are unchanged on this. Despite the limitations of this Bill, I would still prefer it passed in to law as is, rather than not at all. Then at least maybe (for example) the British publisher that recently cowed to potential litigation by the Church of Scientology need worry no more about ‘libel tourism.’ What presently concerns me, however, is that this Bill will be dropped. Your final brief paragraph did not reassure on this. So, to re-iterate my concerns communicated in my e-mail of 12 February 2013:

I write upon learning that the Defamation Bill has been amended in the House of Lords by addition of a ‘Leveson clause’.

I do not understand the reasoning behind this, unless the Lords have seen it as a way of ensuring that the Leveson proposals are enacted. However, with the government’s objection to the Leveson proposals, this raises the possibility that the Defamation Bill will not now be passed (or will be compromised and substantially delayed). The Defamation Bill has been in process for some time, and it should not be risked, or further hampered by this add-on clause.

Libel Reform was part of the manifestos of all parties at the last election. I urge you to argue that these two issues be kept separate and that Libel Reform be expedited as soon as possible.

You state that Government Ministers voted against amendments to the Defamation Bill. Which amendments and when? The Bill has been in the Lords since last October, but the ‘Leveson clause’ was only spot-welded onto it early this month. If the Lords pass the Bill today in its Labour peer-adulterated form, will it be salvageable at the ‘Consideration of amendments‘ stage? Or will this important opportunity to secure vital reform to our country’s embarrassing libel laws have been wasted?

Yours etc,


UPDATE: Defamation Bill Third Reading


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