Libel reform – this concerns YOU!

Dear [MP],

Thank you for your letter of 5 March 2013. As time is of the essence, I will respond by e-mail. I also here acknowledge your letter of 11 February 2013 in response to my query as to your reasoning for your vote following the recent same-sex marriage debate. In the latter (to which I will be replying separately), you confusingly apologised for potentially offending me. I can assure you I was not offended in the slightest. What I am offended by, however, is your disappointing response of 5 March concerning the Defamation Bill.

I wrote to you by e-mail on 12 Feb concerning the House of Lords’ ‘Leveson clause’ amendment to the Bill, and urged you to argue that these two issues not be conflated, such that Libel Reform could at last be enacted. I was very disappointed by the response I received on 20 Feb; indeed angered by the off-brushing copy-pasting of text from Lord McNally’s letter (18 July 2012), as I explicated subsequently on 25 Feb. And what do I subsequently receive from you by letter dated 5 March? The same copy-pasted ‘balance’-selling text from McNally’s filed letter.

I do, of course, appreciate that you are a very busy Member of Parliament. Nevertheless, I have become unconvinced that you are affording this particular issue necessary seriousness. So, as you failed to address the points of concern I raised, I will respond to seeming laziness by lazily re-providing here my message of 25 Feb:

Dear [MP],

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

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 sincerely,

Alternatively, if my words are not appreciated, then consider the open letter to the main party leaders from a number of prominent writers published this week:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/mar/06/authors-party-leaders-libel-reforms

Further, I also (5 March) forwarded you an e-mail from the Libel Reform Campaign team, and respectfully urged you to do all you can to get the Government to table the Bill and demonstrate its manifesto commitment to libel reform. To which you responded that you are not sure there is anything more you can add to the hard-copy of copy-pasted McNally.

I do not accept this. Could you not write to the Prime Minister as a matter of urgency? I could, of course, write to him myself, but with the limited time remaining, any letter from me would not reach the top of his (office’s) in-tray, and (as he has refused to let the Bill return to the Commons with the clause attached) he is apparently ready to drop the Bill regardless. A letter from yourself would likely have more buoyancy.

In your letter of 11 February on the same-sex marriage issue, you described how you had been influenced by discussions with one of your (prominent) constituents. Well, I – your constituent – consider free speech and libel reform an issue of ‘grave concern.’ It will be to the eternal shame of this Parliament if this Bill is not salvaged. The leader of the incumbent government should value the universal issue of free speech above partisanship on a separate matter – and he needs reminding of this soonest by Members.

With thanks for your time,

Yours sincerely,

 

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