English PEN welcomes the Defamation Act 2013

Houses of Parliament

We are delighted to report that the Defamation Bill is now law.  The legislation was finally agreed by Parliament earlier this week, and yesterday became an Act of Parliament, the Defamation Act 2013.

This new law expands the space for free speech in the UK.  It also curbs the problem of ‘libel tourism’, where overseas writers were being threatened by lawyers based in London.

This success is the result of a three-and-a-half year campaign by English PEN and our colleagues in the Libel Reform Campaign – Index on Censorship and Sense About Science.  English PEN members have been some of the most active campaigners, and we are extremely grateful for your support.

Our Director Jo Glanville (who co-wrote our original libel inquiry report Free Speech is not for Sale while editor of Index on Censorship) said:

‘This remarkable campaign was launched by my predecessor Jonathan Heawood and our former president Lisa Appignanesi. It has united politicians and campaigners to reform a law that had become an international embarrassment. The chill has had an impact on anyone speaking out in the public interest – from scientists to bloggers – and has even affected novelists.  This reforming Act is good news for freedom of speech in the UK.’

Author Simon Singh, defendant in BCA v Singh, said:

‘This is an extraordinary story of cross-party collaboration, fired up by a grassroots campaign, backed by everyone from nerds to Mumsnet, which includes mums who are also nerds. Four years ago, libel reform was not an issue that anybody cared about, but I have witnessed first hand how charities, bloggers, MPs, Lords and a multitude of others pushed this issue up the agenda, into manifestos, into the Queen’s Speech and now, at last, we have a Defamation Act that will change the landscape of free speech in Britain.’

You can read more comments from our campaign partners and supporters on the Libel Reform Campaign website.  The campaign has also produced an initial analysis of the Bill (PDF) explaining what we campaigned for, and what will change.

Unfortunately, the work of the campaign is not yet done.  We will be keeping pressure on the Government to ‘commence’ the new Act as soon as possible.  Ministers also need to keep their promise to publish clear and robust regulations for website operators, costs protection measures, and Civil Procedure Rules that will give the provisions in the Defamation Act real bite.

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