Libel reform watch [updated – even Wayne Rooney is affected]

7 June 2010 by

Update 08/06/10: Is there no limit to the damage which restrictive libel laws can do? A Wayne Rooney biography, and possibly England’s football World Cup chances, are the latest victim of threats of libel action, says Afua Hirsch in the Guardian:

I’m not saying that information about Rooney’s background is up there with other public interest revelations that have been caught by libel law – lying politicians or innocent people dying from toxic waste, for example. On the other hand, if the Daily Star is to be believed, the book is fundamental to England’s World Cup performance. The paper claims that the book, which I haven’t read, contains “embarrassing material on the England hero” and “is threatening to derail England’s World Cup dreams.”

The law of libel and defamation sets the limits of freedom of expression. It is therefore unsurprising how many conflicting views there are on the Government’s proposed libel reforms. To keep up with this fast-moving debate, we are introducing a new feature: Libel reform watch.

We have been following the debate with interest, as have the excellent Inforrm’s Blog, which (unlike this blog) is written by specialist media lawyers. We intend to continue doing so, as any reforms the Government eventually decides on will have a significant impact on the often conflicting human rights to freedom of expression, Article 10, on the one hand, and the right to privacy, Article 8, on the other.

The debate has some key players. It is unsurprising that the national media, which have a large stake in any reforms affecting what they can and cannot print, are getting stuck in. Be prepared for plenty more column inches and editorials before the reforms emerge.

Also vocal, of course, are the the sometimes demonised libel lawyers, whose lucrative no-win-no-fee structures are at risk. They say that tinkering with the fees system will score short term political points whilst doing long term damage to access to justice for prospective claimants.

Today’s roundup

Today’s press includes debate on the seemingly diminishing right to trial by jury (see our previous post on this issue). Libel and defamation trials were until recently the last bastion of civil (i.e. non-criminal) trials which still have juries. But in what may be a sign of things to come, a libel action brought by Michael Jackson’s former bodyguard is to proceed without a jury. The Times have covered the story, and Inforrm have posted that the decision is to be appealed this week.

Inforrm’s blog has reprinted an article by William Bennett, a barrister specialising in defamation law. He supports the idea of jury-less defamation trials, as they will keep costs down and open up verdicts to scrutiny:

Trial by judge has positive advantages. A judge must give a reasoned judgment; a jury need only give a bare verdict. A judgment can be scrutinised by an appeal court whereas a jury verdict can only be set aside if perverse (in which case another jury will usually have to be sworn in order to determine the same issue). Decisions by judges are subject to scrutiny in a way in which jury verdicts are not. Would we want to dispense with openness as to how a decision had been reached and replace it with inscrutable jury verdicts?

Also today,the Guardian have published an editorial supporting Lord Lester’s draft libel reform bill, with some qualifications:

Step forward the Lib Dem peer, Lord Lester, and his private members’ defamation bill, which has just been published. The bill is not perfect; it does nothing about the burden of proof. But it is a wide-ranging and thoughtful attempt to rectify many of the glaring and rather shaming features of the present. In particular, it introduces a new defence of “responsible publication on matters of public interest” – which would go beyond the present doctrine, as developed in the cases of Reynolds and Jameel, of responsible journalism – a defence which, as Lord Steyn argued, was well intentioned but which has failed to defend important reporting in the public interest.

Read more:

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals Anne Sacoolas anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board care homes Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Commission on a Bill of Rights common law communications competition confidentiality consent conservation constitution contact order contact tracing contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty defamation DEFRA deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention Dignitas diplomacy diplomatic relations disability disclosure Discrimination disease divorce DNA domestic violence duty of care ECHR ECtHR Education election Employment Environment Equality Act Equality Act 2010 Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice evidence extradition extraordinary rendition Facebook Facial Recognition Family Fatal Accidents Fertility FGM Finance foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Expression freedom of information freedom of speech Gay marriage gay rights Gaza Gender genetics Germany Google Grenfell Gun Control hague convention Harry Dunn Health HIV home office Housing HRLA human rights Human Rights Act human rights news Human Rights Watch Huntington's Disease immigration India Indonesia injunction Inquests insurance international law internet inuit Iran Iraq Ireland islam Israel Italy IVF ivory ban Japan joint enterprise judaism judicial review Judicial Review reform Julian Assange jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Bill Law Pod UK legal aid legal aid cuts Leveson Inquiry lgbtq liability Libel Liberty Libya lisbon treaty Lithuania local authorities marriage Media and Censorship mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Health military Ministry of Justice modern slavery morocco murder music Muslim nationality national security naturism neuroscience NHS Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance Obituary ouster clauses parental rights parliamentary expenses scandal patents Pensions Personal Injury physician assisted death Piracy Plagiarism planning planning system Poland Police Politics Pope press prison Prisoners prisoner votes Prisons privacy procurement Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecutions prostituton Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest Public/Private public access public authorities public inquiries quarantine Radicalisation refugee rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion RightsInfo right to die right to family life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania round-up Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials sexual offence shamima begum Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa Spain special advocates Sports Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance sweatshops Syria Tax technology Terrorism The Round Up tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine universal credit universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Weekly Round-up Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: