Leading authors urge party leaders to honour pledge to libel reform

Julian Barnes, Dame Margaret Drabble, Dame Antonia Fraser, Stephen Fry, Michael Frayn, Sir David Hare, Ian McEwan, Sir Salman Rushdie, Ali Smith, Sir Tom Stoppard and Claire Tomalin join fellow leading British authors today in an open letter to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, calling on the Prime Minister and party leaders to ensure the Defamation Bill becomes law.

The letter has been sent in response to fears that the Defamation Bill may be scrapped, following the inclusion of a new clause that introduces aspects of Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations into the bill. The clause was introduced by Lord Puttnam during the Report Stage of the bill in the House of Lords. There are concerns that the Government will drop the bill to prevent Leveson’s proposals being enacted through statute.

The signatories state that the bill promises to bring libel law into the 21st century: providing effective defences for online publication, stopping corporations from bullying individuals into silence, putting an end to trivial and vexatious claims, and introducing a long overdue public interest defence: ‘This is an historic moment for free speech in this country.’

All three parties made a commitment to libel reform in their manifestos; a pledge that was repeated by the Government in its coalition agreement.

The authors write:

‘The bill offers an opportunity for reform that we cannot afford to miss … we ask you to honour your commitment and ensure that the bill completes its passage by the end of this session of Parliament.’

Gillian Slovo, President of English PEN, said:

‘The Defamation Bill is a model for what politicians can achieve when they work together. After many months of debate and deliberation, the parties were converging on a consensus. The Government must guarantee that the Defamation Bill is brought back to the House of Commons for debate immediately, and not left to wither.’

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