Speakers' Corner

Occasional contributions from readers, which do not necessarily reflect the views of Sarawak Report but may be published at the discretion of the site

The UK Law Of Libel


This component of UK civil law was last considered by Parliament in 2013 and resulted in the Libel Act 2013. This excellent piece of forward looking legislation should have removed many of the antique inequalities that existed prior to its passage but, in the instance, did not.

That this was so was almost entirely down to the legal profession which, seeing a prime source of income slipping from its grasp did, or in some instances, failed to do what the law prescribed so that, in effect, matters went on much as before.

That meant that it remained, and remains, the position that only the rich can afford a reputation, justified or not, and ordinary citizens, whom you represent at the fountain of legislative power, cannot.

It also means that a system of protecting the errant but wealthy which might have been appropriate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is a discreditable blot on our national jurisprudence which is overdue for wholesale reform.

This is not to say that a sensible system for victims of unjust or false libellous statement do not need the protection of the law. It is merely to say that a twenty first century system is needed to replace the discredited past. Clearly Parliament recognised this when passing the 2013 legislation but the effect of that has largely been frustrated and it remains the privilege of the rich to silence the poor but honest commentator by making libel actions so expensive ihat few can afford the cost.

What then us to be done to right this situation? First and foremost is to remove libel jurisdiction from the High Court and bring it within the remit of County Courts, limiting at the same time the total expenditure allowable to any parties to such actions. This at once brings faster resolution at very much reduced cost.

Thought might also be given to the re-introduction of juries in libel actins to bring some common sense to the estimation of actual damage, if any is proved, rather than the more elevated and expensive notions emerging In the existing Courts, where such an action may be allowed to swell its costs to over a million pounds. To allow a tiny minority of citizens who can afford that sort of expenditure to make justice inacessible to the rest is clearly both undemocratic and unacceptable in today’s world.

After all the rationale behind defamation actions is to restore a reputation allegedly damaged by public allegation. It is emphatically not to allow free loaders, including non-citizens, to try their luck at fleecing British citizens. Therefore a judgment in favour of the plaintiff in such an action affords the relief sought at the minimum possible cost to all parties. The object is to correct an incorrect statement not to bankrupt the defendant or, more usually, deter him from defending the action, issuing a grovelling and possibly total unmerited apology, and, usually, bankrupting him for life.

That is not justice as we, the British people perceive it but merely the feeding of a small and largely ill perceived section of our legal community.

For the reasons set out above, and others which will be known to you personally from your service to the electorate you are urged to consider the points made above, and others which will be known to you from personal experience and instruct the drafting of a Bill to amend, modernise and make respectable in our terms law that is hopelessly out of date, discriminatory in favour of a small section of rich citizens and organisations and is generally a blot on our highly respected corpus of law.

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