The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog

Month: March 2010 (Page 1 of 5)

Lawyers and Libel Reform – the need for dialogue

In an interesting piece yesterday on the Guardian’s “Comment is free” Blog entitled “Lawyers must get behind libel reform”, the Director of English PEN, Jonathan Heawood, discusses the recent contributions to the libel reform debate of Professor Gavin Phillipson (in the Guardian and on this blog yesterday) and Professor Alastair Mullis and Dr Andrew Scott (“Something Rotten in the State of English Libel Law? A Rejoinder to the Clamour of Reform of Defamation“).  Putting aside the predictable quips about “dons” and “getting down from ivory towers” (less donnish figures than the three authors would be very difficult to imagine) Mr Heawood makes some serious points which we would like to engage with. Continue reading

News: House of Commons Committee Rejects Libel CFA Amendment Order [updated]

The Government’s proposed statutory instrument to reduce the maximum success fee in libel Conditional Fee Agreements (“CFAs”) has been voted down by the House of Commons First Delegated Legislation Committee, by 11 votes to 5.   The record of the proceedings in the Committee can be found here, here, here and here.  After an interesting debate the Committee rejected the motion that the “Committee has considered That the Committee has considered the draft Conditional Fee Agreements (Amendment) Order 2010” by 11 votes to 5.  The debate is available on Parliament TV. Continue reading

Opinion: “Mr Straw’s proposed statutory Reynolds defence? Flood v Times recently confirmed it as an enemy of truth and justice” Jonathan Coad

Jack Straw has announced his intention to instigate libel reform to deal with the “chilling effect” that a recent authoritative Reuters Report (see our post here) concluded did not exist. One element of that reform is a proposed new statutory version of the Reynolds defence. This what Mr Straw has said:

Finally – and perhaps most importantly for the media – we’ll be looking at whether to introduce a statutory defence to protect publications that are in the public interest. A statutory public interest test which is clearly and simply expressed could help ensure that the work done by journalists, scientists and NGOs to investigate and inform the public can continue – while also preserving the right we all have to protect our reputations.”

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Opinion: “London: the capital of libel tourism?” Gavin Phillipson

Some misleading reporting has engendered dangerous misconceptions about freedom of speech under English law.

In recent months a sustained campaign by the media, NGOs, foreign commentators and some scientists has seemingly convinced many that English law is uniquely draconian, a massive threat to free speech and scientific debate, that it has no proper public interest defence, doesn’t protect expressions of opinion and that, as a result, London is infested with libel tourists. Continue reading

Debating “Privacy, Probity and the Public Interest”

We have previously drawn our readers’ attention to the important report produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism:  “Privacy, Probity and the Public Interest” by Stephen Whittle and Glenda Cooper.  We summarise the Report’s conclusions in our previous post and we will not repeat them her.  The Report was published on 13 July 2009 but over the past 8 months has attracted almost no media attention or comment.  This is unfortunate.

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“Libel Tourism” – Some Facts

The report of the Libel Working Group was published last week.  The Group itself was extraordinarily unbalanced, even by the standards of New Labour – its 17 members included 3 in house media lawyers, 4 representatives of groups campaigning for libel reform, 2 editors and a number of defendant solicitors, with just 3 claimant lawyers, an academic and a handful of neutrals.  Nevertheless, its report is surprisingly balanced and moderate.  It contains some interesting factual information about the libel actions issued in England in 2009 and the number which involve “tourism”.    These figures are worth some careful consideration.

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Law and Media – News and Events 26 March 2010 [updated]

In this  regular feature we draw attention to the last week’s law and media news and next week’s upcoming events. If readers have any news or events which they would like to draw attention to please add them by way of comments on this post.  We are particularly interested in forthcoming events which readers might like to attend.


This has been a busy week for “libel reform”.  The report of the Libel Working Group was published and Minister of Justice, Jack Straw, told the House of Commons that the government were going to bring forward libel reforms.  These were modest, and surprisingly sensible.   The Minister of Justice, Jack Straw, We blogged about these earlier in the week.   The Government’s proposals were welcomed by the media – a “Times” editorial thundering about lack of equality before the law with “wealthy claimants” apparently “using their resources to prevent publication” – but with no mention of wealthy media organisations using their resources to discourage claims.

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US decision on harassment by paparazzi

In earlier posts we have discussed the UK law of harassment and the Europeanisation of Californian  Privacy and harassment laws bought in the deal with excesses on the Californian paparazzi.

In 1973 a harassment  action was taken against the Ronald Galella for intrusive actions against Jacqueline Onassis.  In its decision in Galella v Onassis the US Court of Appeals for the second circuit upheld the injunction. In an interesting statement balancing competing interests the Court said;

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Revised and Updated: ‘Opinion: “The Petition for Libel Reform: Case not Proven”‘

In this feature we revisit some older posts which may still be of current interest.  This was first posted on 22 February 2010

The Simon Singh libel case (discussed here) has generated huge media interest, partly as a result of a very effective campaign by the defendant himself.  He has has recently appealed to supporters to gather 100,000 signatures on a petition to reform the law of libel.  It appears that it has already attracted over 40,000 signatures and, at a lobby of parliament this week, attracted the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary himself to announce some modest reforms to the law (see our recent post here).

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Defamation Round the World – is London a libel backwater?

One of the important planks of the “Libel Reform Campaign’s” platform is that, in England, “The law is so biased towards claimants and so hostile to writers that London has become known as the libel capital of the world”. This claim is often made but lacks a clear factual basis.   The freedom of expression NGO, Article 19, has carried out a survey of civil defamation cases in 176 countries,   This shows that the highest number of cases is in Germany, Poland, Sweden and the USA – with the USA having the highest average damages awards – US$471,221.

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