Libel Laws

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 13th March 2012.

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Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 2:30 pm, 13th March 2012

What recent progress he has made on his plans to reform libel laws; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The Government’s response to the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Defamation Bill was published on 29 February. It set out the Government’s position on all the key issues. A substantive defamation Bill will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and hope that there will be time for the Bill in the Queen’s Speech. The Joint Committee recommended that qualified privilege should be extended to

“peer-reviewed articles in scientific or academic journals.”

Does he agree that it is in the public interest that scientists and other academics should be able to publish bona fide research results without fear and that, unless their publication is maliciously false, they should be protected from defamation actions?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

One of the main reasons for publishing the draft Bill and looking at the law in that area was the fear that genuine academic and scientific debate was being stifled by the use of the defamation laws. We propose that peer-reviewed research should be protected and are now considering the draft of the final Bill in the light of the Joint Committee’s report. I will not anticipate the Queen’s Speech, but if we can include a defamation Bill, one of its principal objectives will be to deal with the very serious problem that the hon. Gentleman has identified.