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U.K. Government Lays Out Plan to Overhaul 'Laughing Stock' Libel Laws
The U.K. coalition government looks set to overhaul the country's libel laws after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Friday set out plans to bring in new defamation laws and end "libel tourism."
In a speech on freedom of information and civil liberties given at the Institute for Government earlier Friday, Clegg said the government intends to publish a draft defamation bill in the spring to enhance freedom of speech and end the practice of so-called libel tourism.
Libel tourism involves foreign claimants exploiting the U.K.'s rigorous laws by bringing cases against overseas publications to the U.K. courts.
The new bill is expected to provide a new statutory defense for those speaking out in the public interest, as well as providing clarification around the existing defenses of fair comment and justification.
Clegg said: "It is a farce -- and an international embarrassment -- that the American Congress has felt it necessary to legislate to protect their citizens from our libel laws. This government wants to restore our international reputation for free speech ... Our aim is to turn English libel laws from an international laughing stock to an international blueprint."
Clegg also highlighted the high costs of defamation proceedings, referencing the consultation on proposals by Lord Justice Jackson to reform civil litigation funding.
Commenting on the plans, Berwin Leighton Paisner media partner Ian De Freitas said: "There has recently been a lot of court-based debate on these topics and it will be very welcome to have some clarification from the government on issues such as qualified privilege and fair comment."
"However, in terms of what has been branded 'libel tourism,' I hope that they will not take legislation too far as, while there have been cases in the English courts that maybe should not have been, the courts were beginning to address this themselves.
"It is important, especially now that news is spread to a large extent via the Internet, that the English court continues to have jurisdiction for cases brought by foreign nationals who genuinely have a reputation to protect here."