publishing and the internet age. Statutory legislation is an opportunity orParliament to set out a ramework o principles to protect ree speech, which areclear and accessible to all parties and within which the courts can apply the law on acase-by-case basis.
C. Reforms to the law to protect free speech must include:1. A public interest defence.
There is a proound public interest in reedom oexpression, which is a undamental right set out in the European Convention onHuman Rights. Freedom o expression is vital or ensuring political accountability,or advancing understanding and or achieving personal ullment. This is notbecause everything that people say is true, but because an open society tendstowards noisy imperection more than silence and the public interest is sometimesbest served by the publication o uncertain inormation. A clear statutory publicinterest deence in cases where the author has acted responsibly, according to thetype o publication, would curb the chilling efect o libel laws and lead to casesbeing resolved quickly.
2. Restrictions on corporate and public bodies.
In the spirit o a law that protectscitizens and the rights o citizen critics, corporate bodies and associations should beable to sue only i they have grounds to believe that the publisher or writer has beenreckless or malicious. As with current case law, government bodies should also notbe able to sue or libel.
3. Bringing the law up to date.
The denition o publication in English libel lawdoesn’t reect the age o global communication and the internet. Each newspapersold or website hit is a resh libel. This multiple publication rule dates back to 1849and should be replaced with a single publication rule. The innocent disseminationo material and comment by internet service providers, orum hosts and similarentities should be exempted rom libel.
4. Simplifying and strengthening existing defences.
Free speech is protectedby complex deences that ew deendants and claimants understand. Reports and judgements have criticised the absence o a clear distinction between act andopinion, describing the “air comment” deence as overly technical and o limitedvalue. The new Bill should simpliy the deence and update the deences o statutoryand qualied privilege, in line with proposals in Lord Lester’s Bill, so that writersand publishers know in what circumstances they are protected.These changes, along with requiring claimants to prove they have a substantialreputation in the UK, should end ‘libel tourism’, where the rich and powerul useEnglish law to silence criticism in their own countries, and also serve to reduce costs.