Thursday, 16 September 2010

Libel laws stifle debate - will the coalition stop the chill?

It's almost exactly a year since the Liberal Democrats became the first political party to commit to reforming the outdated and unbalanced libel laws of England and Wales - a year that has seen a hugely effective public campaign for libel reform culminating in Lord Lester's Defamation Bill being debated during a Second Reading in the House of Lords - with the Coalition government now firmly committed to reforming libel legislation, the momentum behind the campaign has never been stronger.

Nonetheless the urgent need to rebalance the law in favour of free speech requires us to keep applying pressure - not least to ensure that, having created the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for reform, the laws that emerge are robust enough to transform libel law from a chilling instrument that silences debate to a last-resort for those seeking redress for genuine reasons.

Which is why, at the upcoming Liberal Democrat annual conference, the Libel Reform Coalition will lead a debate on whether and how the government will deliver on its pledge to reform libel laws. Chaired by free speech campaigner and former Lib Dem MP Dr. Evan Harris, the panel will include John Kampfner from Index on Censorship and Tracey Brown from Sense about Science, whose organisations have done so much to further the cause of free speech and open scientific debate in recent months.

Joining the panel will be Liberal Democrat peer and Minister for Justice Lord Tom McNally, who will share his vision for libel reform and discuss how the government plans to enact new libel laws in the next Parliamentary session (2011-12).

If I understand it correctly the event itself will only be open to party members, although as with last year's meeting I'll try my best to record it in some fashion and make it available here.

If you're a party member, please do make sure you attend this exciting meeting - if not, please look out in the near future for coverage of what was discussed - and either way please, please please stick this post on Twitter, Facebook, the nearest tree or lamppost - we'd like as many people to hear about the event as possible!

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