Bloomberg News

Stop U.K. Defamation Cases Reaching Courts, Lawmaker Panel Says

October 19, 2011

Oct. 19 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. proposals to reduce so-called libel tourism and “trivial” defamation cases should be amended so that most disputes are resolved before reaching the courts, a panel of lawmakers said.

Under the draft Defamation Bill proposed in March by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, lawyers will have to prove that England or Wales is “clearly the most appropriate place” to file a suit, rather than because they can win more easily than in the claimant’s own country. The proposed legislation will also require claimants to prove “substantial harm” before they can sue, to cut down on the number of trivial claims.

A joint committee of both houses of Parliament set up to review the bill said in a report published in London today that the government should do more to ensure that cases are resolved rapidly through mediation or arbitration.

“Defamation proceedings are far too expensive, which is a barrier to all but the richest,” Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party lawmaker who heads the panel, said in an e- mailed statement. “Our recommendations should help minimize the reliance on expensive lawyers and the courts, bringing defamation action into the reach of ordinary people who find themselves needing to protect their reputation or defend their right to freedom of speech.”

The committee also called on judges to manage cases efficiently by ruling on cases at an early stage “before massive legal costs are incurred.” A stricter test should be introduced to weed out trivial cases early on, it said.

The bill should also be changed to make it more difficult for companies to use their financial strength and the threat of court action to silence critics, the panel recommended. Before bringing a claim, companies would have to obtain the permission of the courts by demonstrating an arguable case that they have suffered “substantial financial harm.”

The draft bill only applies to England and Wales because responsibility for the justice systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland is devolved to governments there.

--Editors: Andrew Atkinson, Christopher Scinta

To contact the reporter on this story: Eddie Buckle at ebuckle@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net.


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