and online commentators. We believe that, where genuine public interest can bedemonstrated (rather than merely statements which may interest the public), andwhere any errors of fact are promptly corrected, the burden of proof in this defenceshould be shifted to the claimant, who should prove malice or recklessness on thedefendant’s part. And in order to avoid legal uncertainty, we believe that the ‘publicinterest’ test should be removed from the defence of honest opinion.
The law is used by corporations and other non-natural persons to manage their brand
.The draft Bill does not include measures to prevent non-natural persons from suing inlibel. Whilst non-natural persons may benefit from some human rights, they cannotbenefit from Article 8’s protection of psychological integrity. Their ability to sue in libelshould be tightly restrained, as recommended by the Culture, Media & Sport selectcommittee. We propose four remedies that would be more appropriate for non-naturalpersons than suing in libel for damages.
The law does not reflect the nature of 21st-century digital publication
. Withouttackling the role of online intermediaries, the law encourages private censorship bybodies which are neither authors nor traditional publishers. The Bill must be revised toallow judicial oversight of threatened libel actions against online hosts andintermediaries, by requiring claimants to obtain a court order against such a secondarypublisher where the original author or publisher of a statement cannot be identified orcontacted.
The law allows trivial and vexatious claims
. The substantial harm test in the draft Billdoes not raise the bar sufficiently high to prevent time-wasting and bullying claims bylitigants who are not interested in justice. We recommend that this test should beconsiderably strengthened, to prevent vexatious use of the law to silence legitimatecriticism. A high threshold should not prevent claims from individuals whosepsychological integrity has been violated by a libellous statement.As Justice Minister Lord McNally has said, the law as it stands is “not fit for purpose”. Thereare other areas in the Bill where we wish to see improvements but we are particularlyconcerned that, without these changes, the Government’s stated ambition of turningEnglish libel law from a “laughing stock” into an “international blueprint for reform” will fallflat.These substantive legal reforms must be accompanied by changes to procedure – on whichwe will submit further evidence – and costs. The cost of defending a defamation action hasa significant chilling effect on freedom of expression. Defendants are routinely left tens of