Jack Straw moots end to UK libel tourism

The eradication of libel tourism will be a key concern for the next UK parliament, with Justice Secretary Jack Straw today announcing a range of libel reforms.

Straw hopes to put a stop to libel claims made against foreign publications that can be accessed in the UK by asking the Civil Procedure Rule Committee to consider tightening rules where the court’s permission is required to serve defamation cases outside England and Wales.

Other proposals include replacing the existing multiple publication rule, which allows claimants to bring a case against every publication that repeats claims, with a single publication rule. Any action would have to be brought within one year of the date of original publication.

Straw is also proposing introducing a statutory public interest defence to address the affect that the threat of libel proceedings can have on investigative proceedings.

Straw said: “Our current libel laws need to achieve a fair balance between allowing people to protect their reputations from defamatory allegations, and ensuring that freedom of expression and the public’s right to know on matters of public interest are not unnecessarily impeded. At the moment, we believe that the balance is tilted too much in favour of the former.

“The changes announced today, together with other steps already taken by the Government, will redress this imbalance. Replacing the multiple publication rule will ensure that people cannot take court action every time the same article is downloaded,  preventing costly and unnecessary legal actions and the uncertainty for publishers of open-ended liability.

“The Government is considering whether a statutory public interest defence would help journalists and other groups who investigate matters of public importance, who are sometimes prevented from making their findings known because of the threat of legal action.”