Those good, honest folk who populate the nation’s newsrooms were throwing their trilbies in the air in triumph earlier this month after the MoJ published its long-awaited draft Defamation Bill (see story).
The red tops in particular have had something of a rough ride over the last few months, what with the draconian measures being rolled out to stop them spying on innocent members of the public and accusations flying around that maybe some parts of what they publish may have only a passing acquaintance with absolute truth.
But they can stop reaching for that supermarket scotch hidden in the desk drawer for a while as justice secretary Ken Clarke seems to have enshrined a few basic journalistic rights, if that isn’t an oxymoron.
The Bill “will ensure that anyone who makes a statement of fact or expresses an honest opinion can do so with confidence,” said Parliament’s favourite cigar chomper.
All of which sounds suspiciously like the ’fair comment’ defence that Fleet Street’s finest have been rolling out for decades with increasingly limited success, thanks to the work of, for instance, Justices Eady and Tugendhat.
Still, if it means your favourite news providers can now honestly state that they believe Fred Goodwin is a banker, we say it’s a small step on the long walk to freedom… of the press.
Elsewhere, the Government has selected six heavyweight silks to sit on an independent commission to examine whether there is a need for a UK Bill of Rights.
The commission, headed by former Permanent Secretary Sir Leigh Lewis, will look at the Human Rights Act and decide whether it properly reflects British freedoms. It is expected to report back to the Government no later than by the end of 2012.
The six silks are: 8 New Square’s Martin Howe QC; Blackstone Chambers’ Anthony Lester QC; Devereux Chambers’ Jonathan Fisher QC; Doughty Street Chambers’ Helena Kennedy QC; 4 Pump Court’s Anthony Speaight QC and Matrix Chambers’ Phillippe Sands QC (read more).