The libel laws of England & Wales are not fit for purpose. Deficiencies in the law and the legal system mean that the rich and powerful are able to effectively suppress legitimate criticism of their actions, while ordinary citizens are unable to seek redress when they are smeared by the large media outlets. The phenomenon of libel tourism chills the work of activists and campaigners around the world, who may be threatened with a libel suit in the English courts, even if they are publishing elsewhere in the world.
In 2009, English PEN and Index on Censorship ran a year-long Libel Inquiry. The final report of the Inquiry, Free Speech Is Not For Sale, identified the central problems with the current libel system, and offered ideas for reform.
Following the launch of this report, the Libel Reform Campaign was launched with Sense About Science. This campaign has secured the support of over 60,000 people and 60 prominent NGOs, Royal Colleges, and associations. All three of the main political parties made manifesto committments to reform the law, ahead of the UK General Election.
The Defamation Bill is currently making its way through parliament. The Libel Reform campaign is now focused on ensuring that the Bill carries the strongest protections for free expression, including:
- Strong defences of Truth, Public Interest, and Honest Opinion
- Barriers to the bringing of trivial cases where the defamation did not cause serious harm
- Protection for ISPs and booksellers from liability
- A reform of the procedures and rules for hearing a libel case, to reduce costs
- A bar on corporations and non-natural persons from suing for libel