[Press Release] Government chooses business interests over citizens

In a House of Commons debate on the Defamation Bill this evening Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Helen Grant MP said the Government would “actively consider” amendments to the Bill that would require corporations to show financial loss before they can sue for libel, following pressure from Shadow Minister for Justice Sadiq Khan MP.

However, the Minister said the Government does not agree with putting the Derbyshire principle, which bars public bodies from suing individuals for libel into law, nor to extend this principle to private companies performing public functions.

The Commons debate was to consider amendments made to the Defamation Bill in the House of Lords, one of which was a new clause limiting companies’ and other non-natural persons’ use of the libel laws. Labour pushed the Government on this clause and forced a vote. The Government won the vote 298 to 230 so the new clause was rejected from the Defamation Bill. The House of Lords will consider this issue again on 23rd April.

Tracey Brown, Sense About Science:

We are pleased that so many MPs recognise the need for corporations to show actual financial harm and grateful to the MPs who worked for this. While it is deeply disappointing that the corporations’ clause has been removed, their efforts have at least led the Government to concede that this should be revisited in the Lords. It cannot be right that the court is not asked to consider whether companies have faced loss, or are likely to, before a case can go ahead. It cannot be right that citizens can’t criticise delivery of public services whether by private companies or by the Government.

Kirsty Hughes, Chief Executive, Index on Censorship:

It is a very unwelcome blot on an important bill that the Government voted to allow corporations to continue to pressurise and sue in ways that chill free speech

Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN:

The Government needs to do more than “actively consider” amendments. Ministers in the House of Lords should now table an early amendment, requiring corporations to show financial loss before they sue. We’re depending on the Lords now to deliver the reform that all the parties signed up to. It’s essential that companies are no longer allowed to exploit libel law to bully whistleblowers into silence. This has always been a key demand for the campaign.

Simon Singh, defendant in British Chiropractic Association v Singh:

The majority of the cases that galvanized public support for libel reform involved corporations, so the final Defamation Bill must include a clause that limits the powers for corporations to bully their critics into silence. The proposal on the table is reasonable, modest and fair. Ignoring this proposal on corporations would leave the door open to further abuses of libel law by those who want to block the public’s access to information concerning everything from consumer issues to medical treatments.

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