We’ve talked before on Skepchick about the ongoing fight here in the UK to reform the horrific libel laws that currently encourage people to use the courts to suppress free speech and cripple people without the ability to fight back. Simon Singh is currently our hero for standing up to the British Chiropractic Association in a drawn-out court battle, defending his right to point out that many of their recommended treatments are not based in science.

As I’ve mentioned, you should sign the petition and contact your representative to let them know you want a change to the libel law (signing via that link allows you to then easily email your rep with suggested language!). Even if you’re outside the UK, you should let your government know how you feel since our libel laws allow foreigners to sue one another in order to censor critics.

I sent off a letter to our local representative back before Christmas, and the other day I received a very nice, considered response letting me know that Ed Davey will in fact be signing the petition and fighting for libel reform. Woo hoo!

I decided to ask other people to send me the responses they were getting, and to let me know if they still had not received a response. I’ve collected them all here so you can see which MPs are doing their jobs and supporting free speech. Note that a number of them are writing to Jack Straw – Straw’s review of libel law is not enough, and we need to encourage MPs to continue to apply pressure to make sure that real action is taken. I’ll update this post as more people write in. After the jump you can read the responses and see a breakdown of the data.

Total responses to my request thus far
50

Breakdown by party
Conservatives
Yes: 7
Maybe: 5
No Reply: 5

Labour
Yes: 18
Maybe: 2
No Reply: 6

Respect
Yes: 0
Maybe: 0
No Reply: 1

Lib Dem
Yes: 5
Maybe: 0
No Reply: 0

Expressed as %

Best Ninja Response
Ann Milton of the Shadow Justice Team

Best-read MP
Peter Soulsby, reading Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science

Best Comic Book Superhero/Villain Alter-ego Name
Fabian Hamilton

Best Twinsie BFFs
Rob Wilson and Mark Lancaster and Edward Timpson, who sent nearly identical waffle letters back to constituents

Best Places for Free Speech Advocates to Live

View MPs’ Response to Libel Reform in a larger map

Free Speech Advocates

Ed Davey

Dear Rebecca Watson,

Many thanks for your email.

I am sorry for the delay in responding to you.

I completely agree with you and I have signed the EDM today – the first full day back of parliament since Christmas!

It is absolutely outrageous that we are now in a position where doctors who criticise heart implants and journalists who expose corruption are brought before the courts instead of being applauded!

I can assure you that I along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues will continue to support calls for a Libel Law Reform in parliament and we urge other parties to follow our lead.

All the best for 2010. Please do not hesitate to contact me on this or any matter which I can be of assistance.

Best,

Ed

Nick Palmer

Dear Mr Rutt,

Yes, to be perfectly honest I’ve not had strong views on the libel laws, but I’m a strong supporter of the organisation Sense About Science, and since they say the laws hinder scientific inquiry and challenge, I was very happy to back the EDM.

Yours sincerely

Nick Palmer MP

[ED: GO SAS!]

Rob Marris

Thank you for your email dated 10 December 2009.

I should be grateful if you could let me know your home address, to confirm that you live in the constituency of Wolverhampton South West.

In the meantime, can I say that I do share your concerns. I have previously raised them with the Lord Chancellor Jack Straw MP. However, your email prompted me to write to him. Attached is a copy of that letter.

R

Rob Marris
MP for Wolverhampton South West

ATTACHED:

11 December 2009

Dear Jack,

UK Libel Law

As you know, I am most concerned about the current state of UK libel law. It is stifling publication of scientific evidence and research. It is also making our country a haven for “libel tourists”.

I should be grateful if you, or one of your colleagues, could let me know what steps the government will soon be taking to address this issue; for example, when will a Libel Reform Bill be introduced in Parliament?

Yours sincerely,

Rob Marris

MP for Wolverhampton South West

Cc Constituents

jww

Diane Abbot

Kate
You are right. We do need to reform our libel laws. And I will support any effort in Parliament to do so.
Diane

Philip Davies

Dear Mr Abbott

Thank you for your email.

I very much agree with you about this issue and I am in fact a co-sponsor of this EDM.

I am helping with this campaign where I can and I am also on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee which will be producing a report on this issue in the New Year.

I hope that this reassures you of my views on this subject and if you ever feel that I can be of any further help with anything please let me know.

Best wishes

Philip Davies MP

Ann Milton

Thank you for writing to me about EDM 423 and libel law reform. I do understand your concerns and agree that it is important to make sure that those who contribute to research and culture in the UK do not feel restricted from publishing challenging and informative articles out of fear of libel action. Freedom of expression is vital in a free society and debate by scientists, academics and journalists should be encouraged.

You may be aware that the Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, has recently announced that the Governmetn is drawing up plans to change libel law and we wait and see what these proposals are. I have however written to Jack Straw so he is aware how strongly people feel about this.

My colleagues on the Shadow Justice team will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that any changes to the law will protect individuals without harming freedom of expression. I believe very strongly in the preservation of freedoms of speech and would like to thank you again for taking the time to write to me. I will contact you once I receive a reply from the Government

Anne Milton MP for Guildford

Dr Phyllis Starkey

Thank you for your e-mail in support of Libel Law Reform.

I have as you requested, added my signature to EDM 423

Yours sincerely

Dr Phyllis Starkey MP

Jim Hood

Mr. Hood has asked me to thank you for your email and to let you know that he has signed the EDM 423 in support of the motion.

He appreciates your interest in bringing this to his attention.

Kind regards Helen Davidson
Office of Mr. Jim Hood MP

Neil Gerrard

Thank you for your email about the campaign for reform of the libels laws.

I have signed the Early Day Motion to which you referred in your email. I believe that it is important that, as the EDM says, it is possible for someone to protect their individual reputation against malicious or reckless smears, but that lawful free expression should not be suppressed and there should be an effective public interest defence for both scholarship and responsible journalism.

I do not believe that we should allow a situation to continue where the UK is a magnet for libel cases which cost huge amounts of money and serve no useful purpose in protecting individuals but can act as a deterrent to free speech.

Yours sincerely Neil Gerrard

Peter Soulsby

Thank you for your email.

I have checked and the particular debate – initiated by Dr Evan Harris – is on the recent issue of the reporting of Parliamentary proceedings.

I am, however, very sympathetic to the points you raise and am at the moment halfway through Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Science.

I am also well aware of Simon Singh’s situation and will certainly take any opportunity to support the ability to speak out clearly on these issues without the threat of legal action.

Yours sincerely, Peter Soulsby

+++

Thank you for your email about possible reforms of the libel law in England and Wales. I thought that you might be interested in an update on the Government’s position.

The Government is concerned about the potential effect that our libel laws are having on freedom of speech. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary with responsibility for this policy area, is setting up a working group, which will consist of media lawyers and other experts, to examine a range of issues around libel. The aim of this group will be to make recommendations on reform.

One of the issues that the working group will look at, which you have highlighted, is libel tourism. A number of factors will be relevant, including the extent of publication in England compared to elsewhere, whether the claimant is resident and carrying on business in England or otherwise connected, whether there is real or likely damage to reputation in England, and the location of witnesses. Where the English court has jurisdiction it will apply the law of England and Wales. However, if the defamation in question was committed abroad the claimant will also have to show that the statement in question was defamatory in the law of the country where the defamation allegedly took place.

The Government has already taken a number of steps to control costs in publication proceedings, ensuring that, where After the Event insurance is taken out, defendants are notified as early as possible, and given the opportunity to reach a settlement without being liable for the insurance premiums. Defamation proceedings are now part of a mandatory costs budgeting pilot, with Judges scrutinising costs as cases progress to ensure that they are proportionate and within the agreed budget. However, the Government still concerned about the level of success fees and we are examining options for taking action in this area.

Furthermore, as you may be aware, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into Press Standards, Privacy and Libel and is considering a wide range of issues in this area of the law. Jack Straw gave evidence before the Committee on 19 May and the Government will consider carefully any recommendations that the Committee may wish to make in its forthcoming report.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Soulsby

Fiona Mactaggart

Thank you for contacting me about libel law reform.

I agree that libel laws here have led to litigants from abroad bringing cases in the UK courts because they expect to receive much greater financial damages in this country than they would elsewhere, and this is wrong in many ways. More importantly, if this persists the risk of a chilling effect on scientific and other research could mean that the UK loses our well deserved reputation as a place where science, which depends on freedom to publish, will thrive.

You will have seen that the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, has announced his plan for a quick review of libel law, following formal consultations on the law of defamation through the Ministry of Justice. I expect the full details will be published after the parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport publishes its report later this month on Press standards, privacy and libel. I am passing on your, and other constituents’, views, which I share, to Jack Straw to add to his review.

I support a change in the law, but I do not normally sign Early Day Motions as they are just one way of backbench MPs showing their views on an issue, they have become so common that they have fallen into disregard and they are not debated in Parliament. I think it is more effective to take matters up direct with Ministers, as I have done for you. I will be in contact again when I receive a reply from Jack Straw.

Thank you for contacting me about this, I value knowing the views of people in Slough as they help me in my job as an MP and pressing for change.

Yours sincerely

Fiona Mactaggart

Ann Winterton

Thank you for your recent e-mail communication in connection with your support of a new campaign seeking reform of Britain’s libel laws and calling on me to add my signature to EDM 423. I am grateful to you for letting me have your views on this important matter. I believe that the best course of action that I can take to be of assistance is to write directly to the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, seeking his comments and clarification.

I have enclosed a copy of EDM 423 which I have signed and I shall, of course, contact you again immediately [sic] I receive a response to the representations now being made on your behalf.

With kind regards
Yours sincerely
Ann Winterton

Denis MacShane

Thanks. Have been campaigning on this for some time. See below.
Denis MacShane

10th December

MacShane helps launch Commons campaign for libel law reform

Former Labour minister Denis MacShane MP joined today with Conservative and Lib-Dem MPs in urging swift legislation to reform Britain’s libel laws which he described as an international scandal.

MacShane was speaking at the House of Commons along with the editor of the Economist and BMJ journal who expressed concern that powerful overseas companies and rich individuals were using British courts and libel lawyers to stifle factual reporting and fair comment.

“I am worried that the Justice Ministry is moving far too slowly instead of passing into law the reforms proposed by Index on Censorship and PEN, the writers’ organisation.

“The scandal of London being the libel tourism capital of the world must end. The bloated fees of lawyers need to be curbed. We need a small claims type of libel court with damages and costs limited but retractions and apologies swiftly made.

“All this can be put into a fairly simple act and passed into law before the election. Jack Straw should seize this opportunity to effect an important enduring reform. Setting up a committee to examine the problem is worthwhile but the classic evasion of the Whitehall establishment. We need reform now,” MacShane added

MacShane urged editors to keep up the pressure for libel law reform. “We don’t need one angry editorial when a particularly egregious libel tourism case hits the headlines. Editors should keep up the pressure to try and a change in the law as soon as possible..”

Oliver Letwin

Thank you for your further e-mail about EDM 423 and libel law reform.

I have indeed now looked into this issue, but as a member of the shadow cabinet, I am prevented from signing EDM 423.

Also, I believe that we must be careful when changing libel law. I accept that people in public life have to accept a great deal of attack. But private individuals have the right not to be casually defamed; any changes to this law should not risk this principle. I believe that the burden of proof should remain on individuals who make defamatory claims about private individuals to justify their assertions.

I do, however, understand your concerns on this issue. It is important that those who contribute so much to research and culture in this country do not feel restricted from publishing intellectually challenging and informative articles. Fear of libel action should not curb debate by scientists, academics and journalists. Freedom of expression is the hallmark of a free society, and must be strongly protected.

If libel cases do succeed, the costs are often so crippling to defendants that even large newspapers are in difficulty in resisting some claims. It is evident that Britain has become an attractive place for individuals to bring about speculative libel action since lawyers will often bear the brunt of the costs in exchange for the potential awards available to winning litigants.

I am sure you are aware that the Secretary of State for Justice has recently announced that the Government is currently drawing up plans to alter libel law. My colleagues and I will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that any changes to the law do reduce the burden on, for example, scientists and academics while continuing to protect private individuals from casual defamation.

Best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Oliver Letwin

John Barrett MP

Thank you for taking the time to write to me about the reform of the English libel laws.

We have long seen from many press stories, both domestic and international, that there needs to be major reform of the libel laws in England and Wales. We often see that trials become international laughing stocks as people from all over the world take their chances in English courts because of the lax nature of the laws. Now we are even beginning to see that the laws are effecting scientific research, with academics being sued for positing theories.

While libel laws are devolved in Scotland, and are much more stringent in what can be brought to trial, this matter effects the whole of the UK. My Liberal Democrat colleague Evan Harris has been a long time campaigner for a reform of the system and I fully support his campaign. At the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in September we invited Richard Dawkins to give a speech on this very issue and I am pleased to report we also approved a motion for libel law reform on our agenda. I am also happy to sign EDM 423, submitted by Evan Harris, which is calling for the Government to seriously look at reforming the system. Hopefully this EDM will put pressure on Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to take consider serious change in the review he announced last week.

I thank you for taking the time to write to me about libel laws. If you have any other concerns about this or any other issue please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best Wishes for the New Year,

John

Brian Jenkins

Thank you for your email regarding Early Day Motion 423 “Libel Law Reform” tabled by Evan Harris, I have already signed this EDM. I support reform of Libel laws to help stem the tide of libel litigation that is gagging important matters of public interest, while preserving the right of individuals to protect their reputations.

I agree that it seems an odd that something published on a foreign website by a foreign writer that was not intended for English viewing can provide grounds for a case in English law. The internet now makes things far more complicated and the courts must tread carefully to both protect free speech and preserve individual’s rights. Previously an injunction could physically prevent information from reaching our shores but this is no longer possible, our libel law is yet to catch up with the digital age but I will continue to press for its reform.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me, I trust this addresses your concerns

Kindest Regards and Seasons Greetings

Brian

Fabian Hamilton

Fabian Hamilton has asked me to let you know that he signed EDM 423 today. Please write again if there is anything he can do for you on this or any other matter.

Regards
Marsha Kendall

Parliamentary Assistant to
Fabian Hamilton MP
Leeds North East

Lynn Featherstone
Thank you for writing to me in regard to Early Day otion 423, which calls for a re-casting of the current libel laws. This is a subject that Liberal Democrats in both houses have been active upon. Indeed this EDM was tabled by my colleague Dr Evan Harris MP, and is a subject that he has passionately spoken about in Parliament on many occasions.

In the House of Lords, Lib Dem peer Lord Lester has drawn up a defamation reform bill that would directly tackle the problems of libel tourism and the huge cost of defending a libel charge. At the Press Gazette’s Media Law Conference last year, it was heard that a ajor libel action can cost a publisher almost 2.5 million. There is no doubt that such extoritionate costs have a considerably gagging effect upon the media.

I will gladly sign EDM 423 and my name will shortly appear along side the motion, which can be viewed at http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=39987&SESSION=903. I have also written to Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice, asking him to address the issues that you raise. I shall of course get back to you when I have received a response.

In the meantime, please do not hesitate to get in touch again if you would like to discuss this atter further or if you think there is anything further I can do as your Parliamentary representative.

Kind regards,
Lynne Featherstone MP

John Leech

Thank you for your letter regarding the state of libel law.

It is indeed absurd that the right to free speech in this country is subject to libel tourists and the might of corporations with their ability to obtain injunctions to silence those who speak out. It is absolutely bizarre that litigants are coming to England from all over the world to make use of our restrictive libel laws.

Professor Richard Dawkins addressed the Liberal Democrat Conference on reform of libel law back in September, tabling an amendment to the Civil Liberties motion. The law needs to be rebalanced to be fairer towards free expression, responsible journalism and the public interest.

My colleague Dr Evan Harris MP has been a keen champion of the campaign for libel reform and I will be sure to support efforts in the future to amend the draconian law so that the burden of proof in libel cases rests on the claimant and not the defendant. I will support calls by English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense About Science for a Libel Reform Bill.

Thank you for taking the time to get in touch.

Kind regards,

John Leech

David Drew

Thank you for your email about possible reforms of the libel law in England and Wales.

I know that the government is concerned about the potential effect that our libel laws are having on freedom of speech. I am pleased to say that Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary with responsibility for this policy area, is setting up a working group, which will consist of media lawyers and other experts, to examine a range of issues around libel. The aim of this group will be to make recommendations on reform.

One of the issues that the working group will look at, which you have highlighted, is libel tourism. If an English court is to hear a defamation case, it must have a ground of jurisdiction. The rules on jurisdiction depend on whether the case is covered by European Community legislation. The Brussels I Regulation (44/2001) provides European Union-wide rules on jurisdiction in a number of matters, including defamation. However, in some defamation cases which involve defendants domiciled in a non-EU jurisdiction, such as the United States, the Brussels I Regulation will not apply.

In these situations the English courts have available the well-established doctrine of forum non conveniens which enables them to decline jurisdiction in cases where they consider that it would be more appropriate for a foreign jurisdiction to determine the proceedings. A number of factors will be relevant, including the extent of publication in England compared to elsewhere, whether the claimant is resident and carrying on business in England or otherwise connected, whether there is real or likely damage to reputation in England, and the location of witnesses. Where the English court has jurisdiction it will apply the law of England and Wales. However, if the defamation in question was committed abroad the claimant will also have to show that the statement in question was defamatory in the law of the country where the defamation allegedly took place.

The government has already taken a number of steps to control costs in publication proceedings, ensuring that, where After the Event insurance is taken out, defendants are notified as early as possible, and given the opportunity to reach a settlement without being liable for the insurance premiums. Defamation proceedings are now part of a mandatory costs budgeting pilot, with Judges scrutinising costs as cases progress to ensure that they are proportionate and within the agreed budget. However, the government is still concerned about the level of success fees and we are examining options for taking action in this area.

Furthermore, as you may be aware, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into Press Standards, Privacy and Libel and is considering a wide range of issues in this area of the law. Jack Straw gave evidence before the Committee on 19 May and the Government will consider carefully any recommendations that the Committee may wish to make in its forthcoming report.

At the same time as I am keen to deal with the implications of the growth in libel tourism following the now infamous cases of Simon Singh and Peter Wilmshurst, I am also concerned that ordinary people are finding t increasingly impossible to deal with libels perpetrated against them in the media, web sites or elsewhere. This is equally unfair and dangerous and is in need of attention likewise so that pursuing action against a falsehood must not just be the preserve of the rich and famous.

I therefore welcome the review and hope that it reports shortly so that we can make the necessary legislative changes to protect the innocent. The law should be used sparingly in this area but when it is used we should have confidence that it is appropriate and right and not subject to abuse.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Yours sincerely

David Drew

Nick Clegg

Many thanks for your letter to Nick Clegg MP regarding Early Day Motion 423 on
Libel Law Reform. Nick has asked me to reply to you on his behalf and thank you
for your comments

Unfortunately, due to parliamentary convention, party leaders do not sign
non-legislative EDMs and therefore Nick will not be able to sign EDM 423.
However, as you may be aware, this EDM was tabled by Dr Evan Harris MP, who is
the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Science.

Our party recognises the need for change, and Liberal Democrats adopted a policy
for radical reform of libel law at our party conference this year. Dr Evan
Harris MP heads the Parliamentary campaign, working with English PEN, Index on
Censorship and Sense About Science to support individual writers who are being
sued, such as Dr Peter Wilsmhurst and Simon Singh, and hosted the launch of the
National Petition for Libel Reform on the 10th of December.

As a nation we have found ourselves in the position where doctors who criticise
heart implants and journalists who expose corporate cynicism are being sued in
our courts for libel, rather than being congratulated for trying to save lives.
This has to change. While individuals need a right to redress if their
reputation is damaged, our laws need to give more protection to the right to
free expression.

English libel laws barely recognise the invention of the printing press, let
alone the internet, and our outdated laws have become a scourge not only here,
but abroad too. We see it as an embarrassment that foreigners can be sued in
our courts on the flimsiest of pretexts, and that this has led the United
Nations Human Rights Committee to take the view that our laws discourage
“critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely
affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work”, and
that ‘libel tourism’ could “affect freedom of expression world-wide on matters
of valid public interest”.

Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned for free expression. We headed
the successful campaign against over-broad laws on ‘inciting religious hatred’,
which would have prevented criticism of religion, and also forced the
government into abolishing the arcane laws of blasphemy and, most recently,
sedition and criminal defamation.

We were also extremely concerned by the attempts of leading libel lawyers Carter
Ruck, acting on behalf of Trafigura, to use the courts to prevent the media
from reporting of parliamentary proceedings after the Guardian was injuncted
from reporting that a question had been tabled. Liberal Democrat MPs asked for
and led the debate in Westminster Hall, where we called the Government to
protect the right of the public to know what their elected representatives are
doing, in light of the attempts of powerful corporations to silence the media.
You can read the transcript of the debate here: http://bit.ly/WH-trafigura

Finally, we have had feedback from a number of constituents who feel that Nick
being unable to sign EDMs could mean that they are not as well represented as
those in other constituencies. It is worth noting that government ministers,
whips and parliamentary private secretaries are also unable to sign EDMs. The
Parliamentary Factsheet on EDMs states that ‘in parliamentary terms, the EDM
virtually never has any direct consequence. Public interest in them, which is
well known to Members, perhaps in itself, demonstrates their purpose.’ Nick
feels that his increased profile as a party leader more than compensates for
being unable to sign EDMs as he is able to raise issues in ways that many other
MPs cannot.

The Liberal Democrats will continue to support calls for a Libel Law Reform in
Parliament, and will urge the other parties to follow our lead.

Thank you once again for writing to us. Please do not hesitate to contact the
office again on any matter.

Yours sincerely

Robert Frost,
Caseworker,
On behalf of:

Nick Clegg MP

Andrew Smith

23 December 2009

Many thanks for your emailed letter of the 11th of December.

I very much share your concern about the exploitation of the UK libel
laws and the inhibiting impact this is having in medicine, science,
journalism and literature.

Some of the stories which have been reported in the press really do
give huge grounds for concern.

I shall be pleased to support this campaign for libel law reform, and
have written to Justice Secretary Jack Straw in support of the points
you make, I shall let you know when I receive a reply.

Yours sincerely,
Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP

Daniel Kawczynski

Dear Mr Morrison

Many thanks for your email to Daniel concerning the Libel reform campaign. Please forgive the delay in this response.

Daniel entirely understands your concerns over the current Libel laws, and has added his support to the campaign to reform them by signing EDM 423. Daniel has also had a meeting with Rt Hon Jack Straw MP on the subject, as one of his constituents is currently facing legal action as a result of the libel laws as they stand.

If you would like to receive a written response from Daniel concerning this topic, please feel free to reply back to this email along with your residential address, and Daniel would be happy to write to you.

Many thanks again for contacting Daniel about this important topic, and may I also wish you a very Happy New Year.

With very best regards

Mike Green

Mike Green
Parliamentary Researcher
Office of Daniel Kawczynski MP
Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and Atcham
www.daniel4shrewsbury.co.uk

Tom Levitt

Thank you for your letter about possible reforms of the libel law in England and Wales.

The Labour government is concerned about the potential effect that our libel laws are having on freedom of speech. I am pleased to say that Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, is setting up a working group, which will consist of media lawyers and other experts, to examine a range of issues around libel. The aim of this group will be to make recommendations on reform.

One of the issues that the working group will look at is libel tourism. For an English court to hear a defamation case, it must have a ground of jurisdiction. The rules on jurisdiction depend on whether the case is covered by European Community legislation. The Brussels I Regulation (44/2001) provides European Union-wide rules on jurisdiction in a number of matters, including defamation. However, in some defamation cases which involve defendants domiciled in a non-EU jurisdiction, such as the United States, the Brussels I Regulation will not apply.

In these situations the English courts have a procedure enabling them to decline jurisdiction where they consider that it would be more appropriate for a foreign court to determine the proceedings. A number of factors will be relevant, including the extent of publication in England compared to elsewhere, whether there is real or likely damage to reputation in England, and the location of witnesses. However, if the defamation in question was committed abroad the claimant will have to show that the statement was defamatory in the law of the country where it allegedly took place.

The Government has already taken steps to control costs in publication proceedings, ensuring that, where After the Event insurance is taken out, defendants are given the opportunity to reach a settlement without needing to pay insurance premiums. Defamation proceedings are now part of a mandatory costs budgeting pilot, with Judges scrutinising costs as cases progress to ensure that they are proportionate and within the agreed budget. However, the Government still concerned about the level of success fees and is examining options for taking action in this area.

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into Press Standards, Privacy and Libel. Jack Straw has given evidence to the Committee and the Government will consider any recommendations that they make.

I have signed EDM 423 in support of this campaign, as requested.

I hope you find this helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Levitt MP

Gordon Banks

Thank you for your email urging Mr Banks to sign EDM 423.

This to let you know that he has now signed the motion in question.

Kind Regards

Shefali Enaker

Office of Gordon Banks MP

Fence-sitters

YES?

John Bercow

Dear Miss Lisanti,
Many thanks for your email of 21st December. I appreciate you taking the trouble to write.

I understand your concern regarding the impact of the UK’s libel laws on journalists, doctors and scientists, among others. As Speaker I must remain impartial and therefore cannot sign EDM 423, as you wish. I have however written on your behalf to the Ministry of Justice about the introduction of a Libel Reform Bill and as soon as I receive a reply I will be in touch with you again.

Yours Sincerely
John Bercow

Rob Wilson

(scanned)
Robert Wilson MP
Reading East
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

18 December 2009

Dear Mr Bruce,

Thank you for writing to me about EDM 423 and libel law reform. As a general rule I do not sign EDMs but I am happy to give you my views.

I understand your concerns on this issue. It is important that those who contribute so much to research and culture in this country do not feel restricted from publishing intellectually challenging and informative articles. Fear of libel action should not curb debate by scientists, academics and journalists. Freedom of expression is the hallmark of a free society, and must be strongly protected.

If libel cases do succeed, the costs are often so crippling to defendants that even large newspapers are in difficulty in resisting some claims. It is evident that Britain has become an attractive place for individuals to bring about speculative libel action since lawyers will often bear the brunt of the costs in exchange for the potential awards available to winning litigants.

I do believe, however, that we must be careful when changing libel law itself. People have the right not to be defamed unless necessary; any changes to this law should not risk this principle. I believe that the burden of proof should remain on individuals who make defamatory claims about other people to justify their assertions about others.

You may be aware that the Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw MP, has recently announced that the Government is currently drawing up plans to alter liable [sic] law. Let me assure you that my colleagues on the Shadow Justice Team will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that any changes to the law adequately protect individuals without placing too great a burden on, for example, scientists, academics and journalists.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

Yours Sincerely,

ROB WILSON MP
Member of Parliament for Reading East

Westminster Secretary: 020 7219 2498
[email protected]

Mark Lancaster MP

Thank you for writing to me about EDM 423 and libel law reform.

I understand your concerns on this issue. It is important that those who contribute so much to research and culture in this country do not feel restricted from publishing intellectually challenging and informative articles. Fear of libel action should not curb debate by scientists, academics and journalists. Freedom of expression is the hallmark of a free society, and must be strongly protected.

If libel cases do succeed, the costs are often so crippling to defendants that even large newspapers are in difficulty in resisting some claims. It is evident that Britain has become an attractive place for individuals to bring about speculative libel action since lawyers will often bear the brunt of the costs in exchange for the potential awards available to winning litigants.

I do believe, however, that we must be careful when changing libel law itself. People have the right not to be defamed unless necessary; any changes to this law should not risk this principle. I believe that the burden of proof should remain on individuals who make defamatory claims about other people to justify their assertions about others. For this reason, I do not feel that I can sign EDM 423.

You may be aware that the Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw MP, has recently announced that the Government is currently drawing up plans to alter libel law. Let me assure you that my colleagues on the Shadow Justice Team will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that any changes to the law adequately protect individuals without placing too great a burden on, for example, scientists, academics and journalists.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have anything else to discuss.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Lancaster MP

[ED: Wow, did anyone else get deja vue?]

Edward Timpson

Thank you for writing to me about EDM 423 and libel law reform. I understand your concerns on this issue. It is important that those who contribute so much to research and culture in this country do not feel restrictred from publishing interllectually challenging and informative articles. Fear of libel action should not curb debate by scientists, academics and journalists. Freedom of expression is the hallmark of a free society and must be strongly protected.

If libel cases do succeed, the costs are often so crippling to defendants that even large newspapers are in diffculty in resisting some claims. It is evident that Britain has become an attractive place for individuals to bring about specualative libel action since lawyers will often bear the brunt of the costs in exchange for potential awards available to winning litigants.

I do believe, however, that we must be careful when changing libel law itself. People have the right not to be defamed unless necessary, and changes to this law should not risk this principle. I believe that the burden of proof should remain on individuals who make defamatory claims about other people to justify their asertions about others. For this reason, I do not feel that I can sign EDM 423.

Let me assure you that my colleagues on the Shadow Justice Team will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that any changes to the law adequately protects individuals without placing too great a burden on, for example, scientists, academics and journlists. Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

Yours sincerely

Edward Timpson MP

[ED: Wow, did anyone else get deja vue?]

MAYBE?

Martin Linton

Dear Duncan,

Thank you for your email concerning the effects of the current libel laws. As an ex-journalist of many years myself this is something that is of concern to me to. I will be looking at the EDM and will let you know of my decision on whether to sign it or not and I will also look at the campaign by English PEN before deciding whether to back it.

If you are interested in keeping up to date with the work I do on your behalf as your MP please reply to this email with the word ‘subscribe’ in the subject heading.

Regards

Martin

David Amess

Dear Mr Burns,

Thank you for your letter regarding English libel law, which i have read carefully. I sympathise with your point of view and absolutely agree that medicine, science and journalism require a level of debate to flourish.

My colleagues and i will continue to watch this issue very carefully and I will certainly bear your comments in mind in our future consultations.

With all best wishes,

David Amess MP

Dan Norris

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding reform of the libel laws, which I have noted. I appreciate you taking the time to contact me about this matter.

You asked me to add my name to Early Day Motion 423. Early Day Motions are an expression of backbench opinion, so as Minister for Rural Affairs and Environment, I am unable to sign them.

However Early Day Motions are just one of the many ways in which Members of Parliament can represent the views of their constituents. As your MP I am able to lobby individual Ministers, including the Prime Minister, informally and through written correspondence.

As you may know Jack Straw MP, the Justice Secretary, is setting up a working group, which will consist of media lawyers and other experts, to examine a range of issues around libel. The aim of this group will be to make recommendations on reform. In addition the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into Press Standards, Privacy and Libel and is considering a wide range of issues in this area of law.

Liam Fox

Thank you for contacting me about the libel case against Simon Singh.

I share your concern about the importance of free speech. It is the hallmark of a free society. More generally, I also believe that with regards to the law of libel it is important that we have a balanced approach.

There can be no doubt that the Simon Singh libel case is a matter of great importance to many in the science community. However, you will understand that, as a Member of Parliament, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on individual cases. Parliament’s role is to set the overall legal framework and to ensure that it functions correctly and fairly.

Yours sincerely

Dr Liam Fox MP
Shadow Defence Secretary

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Rebecca Watson

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19 Comments

  1. Avatar of subterfuge
    January 7, 2010 at 8:54 am —

    I received a very prompt and very positive response from my MP, Kate Hoey, Labour member for Vauxhall. I’ll copy it out when I get a chance.

    Rebecca, over here (and in Australia; Canada?), “Labor” is spelt with a u. Except when referring to the Australian Labor party. Obviously. Don’t you love the English language?

  2. Avatar of Andrew Nixon
    January 7, 2010 at 8:57 am —

    I notice my MP hasn’t signed the EDM – I shall fire off an e-mail shortly.

    To be fair to John Bercow, as the speaker of the House of Commons he is required by law to be a fence sitter.

    And by the way, now you’re in the UK, it’s Labour, not Labor… they’ll kick you out of the country if you persist in these odd American spellings. :-)

  3. Avatar of Rebecca Watson
    January 7, 2010 at 9:16 am —

    Okay, okay! I’ve caved to your lesser, wasteful way of spelling Labor!

  4. Avatar of Expatria
    January 7, 2010 at 10:02 am —

    My former MP, George Galloway, is on the No Response list :(

    By the by, does anyone else feel like MPs seem so much nicer than American politicians? I mean, I KNOW politicians are pretty much the same wherever, but the UK ones (in general) seem to do a better job dealing with the public and not coming across as phony.

  5. Avatar of Elvis Chimney
    January 7, 2010 at 10:27 am —

    So how does this apply to those of us north of the border? Given the different legal systems, I’m assuming this only applies to England and Wales.

    I guess it’s still worthwhile writing to my MP because he still gets a say in any debates on the issue – but the standard form letter might need a bit of tweaking to make it more relevant.

  6. Avatar of fernalana
    January 7, 2010 at 10:49 am —

    My MP, Emily Thornberry for Islington South and Finsbury, replied to say she’s for the libel reform campaign and has written to Jack Straw. She sent a letter instead of email so you’ll have to take my word for it!

  7. Avatar of Sid
    January 7, 2010 at 11:23 am —

    @Elvis Chimney:
    Elvis, this applies to everyone; even if they don’t live in England or Wales, they can get sued for libel under English laws in any country by anyone from any other country (Judge permitting). It’s muchos locos!
    If you don’t believe me, have a lookie here: http://libelreform.org/who-is-silenced

  8. Avatar of exarch
    January 7, 2010 at 11:37 am —

    It appears things are on the move …
    OR am I misinterpreting the data?

  9. Avatar of caebrwyn
    January 7, 2010 at 12:46 pm —

    I believe my MP, Adam Price, Plaid Cymru, (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) has signed the EDM, he’s also on the Culture and Media Select Committee.
    We have voices in west Wales too!
    http://www.carmarthenplanning.blogspot.com

  10. Avatar of mrwilson41
    January 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm —

    I think you need one more bar in your graph to show the total:
    Yes: 25/44 = 56.8%
    Maybe: 6/44 = 13.6%
    No Reply: 13/44 = 29.6%

    Looking good so far!

  11. Avatar of Andrew Nixon
    January 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm —

    @Sid: Agreed, but it is worth pointing out though that the libel laws in Scotland are different than those in place in England and Wales.

    The main difference is that for a published comment to be considered defamation (libel and slander are rolled into one in Scotland) the claimant needs to show that the person making the comment intended malice. You may sometimes notice that libel lawsuits against Scottish newspapers are always brought in English courts rather than Scottish courts.

    I also think, but am not sure as I’m not an expert in this, that damages can only be brought if a financial loss is suffered due to the comment(s).

    It needs to be said that the libel laws in question are the England and Wales libel laws, not the British libel laws.

  12. Avatar of Peter Harrison
    January 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm —

    Still no response from Gordon Banks. Grr.

  13. Avatar of Gammidgy
    January 9, 2010 at 8:57 am —

    I’m still awaiting a reply from John Redwood.

  14. Avatar of polomint38
    January 12, 2010 at 7:12 am —

    @subterfuge, Hi Kate Hoey is my MP also, I will wave as I go past your house .

    @Peter Harrison, Your MP is the England Goalkeeper and 1966 World cup winner Gordon Banks, cool.

  15. Avatar of Matt
    January 14, 2010 at 8:26 am —

    Not being a naturally trusting type of guy, I decided to compare the list of people who said they’d sign EDM 243 (or who wrote replies that seemed to imply support) with the list of signatories. I found a few discrepancies…

    Ed Davey wrote “I have signed the EDM today”. And yet he does not appear on the list of signatories.

    Bob Marris didn’t actually say he would sign, merely saying “I do share your concerns”. He does not appear on the list of signatories.

    Diane Abbott wrote “We do need to reform our libel laws. And I will support any effort in Parliament to do so”. However, “any effort” apparently does not include signing an EDM.

    Anne Milton didn’t say she would sign, merely saying “Freedom of expression is vital in a free society and debate by scientists, academics and journalists should be encouraged.” She does not appear on the list of signatories.

    Phyllis Starkey said “I have as you requested, added my signature to EDM 423″. Yet she does not appear on the list of signatories.

    Peter Soulsby – apparently too busy reading “Bad Science” to sign the EDM.

    David Drew wrote a nice long letter. However, didn’t say he would sign EDM 423, and indeed he apparently hasn’t.

    Andrew Smith wrote “I shall be pleased to support this campaign for libel law reform”. I’m sure, then, that he will also be pleased to sign EDM 423 at some point in the future? No?

    Ann Cryer is on the no-show list, presumably for not replying. However, she has actually signed the EDM.

    I also note that Gordon Banks appears on both the Hasselhoff thumbs-up list and the no-shows list.

  16. Avatar of Matt
    January 15, 2010 at 6:29 am —

    Following up on my previous post…

    Two of the MPs who I listed as not signing have now signed: Ed Davey and Diane Abbott. Good for them. I retract any sarcasm that may have slipped into my previous post.

    That leaves six MPs who wrote words of support but have not signed: Bob Marris, Anne Milton, Phyllis Starkey (said explicitly that she had signed), Peter Soulsby, David Drew and Andrew Smith.

  17. Avatar of huw-l
    January 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm —

    I got a reply from My MP Kevin Brennan the Labour member for Cardiff West:


    Thank you for your letter regarding English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense about Science’s campaign for the introduction of a libel reform bill.

    As a Minister and a member of the Government parliamentary protocol prevents my signing Early Day Motions; however please be assured that I have drawn your letter to the attention of the Rt Hob Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice. I enclose a copy of my letter for your records.

    Thank you again for drawing this matter to my attention and I will of course contact you again once I receive a response.

    And the letter to Jack Straw

    Dear Jack,

    Re: Libel Reform Campaign

    Please find enclosed correspondence I have received from constituents supporting English PEN, Index on Censorship and Sense about Science in the campaign for the introduction of a libel reform bill.

    I would ask that my constituents’ comments receive attention and would be grateful to learn what work is being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice in this field which would address the concerns raised.

  18. Avatar of Teek
    January 23, 2010 at 7:42 am —

    Hi – I’ve blogged about my MP’s response here, below is the text of the letter I received in response:

    Dear Teekblog,

    Thank you for writing to me about EDM 423 and libel law reform. I appreciate you taking the time to contact me.

    I understand your concerns on this issue. It is important that those who contribute so much to research and culture in this country so not feel restricted from publishing intelectually challenging and informative articles. Fear of libel action should not curb debate by scientists, academics and journalists. Freedom of expression is the hallmark of a free society and must be strongly protected.

    If libel cases do succeed, the costs are often so crippling to defendants that even large newspapers are in difficulty in resisting some claims. It is evident that Britain has become an attractive place for individuals to bring about speculative libel action since lawyers will often bear the brunt of the cost in exchange for the potential rewards available to winning litigants.

    You may be aware that the Secretary of State for Justice, the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw MP, has recently announced that the government is drawing up plans to alter libel law.

    As a general rule, I do not sign EDMs as the seldom have any impact. Please be assured that I will continue to press the government on this issue, to ensure that any changes to the law adequately protect individuals without placing to great a burden on, for example, scientists, academics, journalists.

    Yours etc,

  19. Avatar of D-Notice
    February 23, 2010 at 3:10 pm —

    I received a reply from my MP (George Galloway; Respect – Bethnal Green & Bow) today.

    He stated that he signed up on 25th January.

    Good for him!

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