House of Lords recognises the “chilling effect” of UK libel laws

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It is a well-known fact that Britain has some of the most strict libel laws in the world. The defamation bill currently going through parliament might offer media organisations more protection.

On the third hearing of the bill last Tuesday the House of Lords introduced an amendment that could  mean that companies wanting to sue for libel will have to show a substantial financial loss. This would present a considerable change to existing defamation laws that only require claimants to prove that the publication is defamatory, that the claimant can be identified and that it has been published.

I am currently tackling libel laws on my journalism course and I can’t shake off the idea that typing along on my keyboard could potentially cost me thousands of pounds even if it’s done with all the good intentions. Parliament is recognising the chilling effect that defamation laws can have on journalists and the limits they can put on investigative journalism and freedom of expression.

The bill already included a requirement for all claimants wishing to sue for libel. They would have to prove that the defamatory material has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.

The government spokesman, Lord Ahmad said the bill would offer significantly more protection to defendants with limited means and lessen the likelihood of attempts being made to threaten and intimidate them, while still enabling businesses to protect their reputation where this has been seriously harmed by unjustified allegations.

It does seem like we are on the right track to obtain a better balance between libel claimants and media organisation, though I am not entirely sure how “serious harm” will be defined.

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