How many libel lawyers does it take…

… to discuss where the public interest lies in libel reform? Quite a few it would seem.  Last night in the austere but impressive surroundings of Gray’s Inn Hall, dozens of lawyers and miscellaneous libel reform types gathered to hear a panel promising to analyse the public interest defence and the place of the ‘little guy’, on whichever ‘side’ he may be. There was a moderate level of tweeting, which can be re-played here on this live blog, and coverage on various blogs. The Media Standards Trust says video footage is coming, for those who missed it on the night.

Update 17/01/10: Video from the event, courtesy of the Media Standards Trust. Part 1, below. Other clips available here.

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2 Responses to How many libel lawyers does it take…

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention How many libel lawyers does it take… | media law & ethics --

  2. cleland thom says:

    There’s an urgent need to reform libel law. It’s one manifesto promise (maybe the only one) the LibDems will be able to deliver in government. Nick Clegg is right – the current arrangements make us a laughing stock He should know what that feels like!
    During the last ten years the UK has become the libel tourism capital of the world, with cases often having more to do with the Russian mafia than protecting the reputations of the good citizens of the UK.
    In a sense, this was nothing new – our libel laws have always been the preserve of the UK mafia (ie – wealthy politicans, celebrities et al). So why not let wealthy Russians, Arabs and whoever else join in?
    During the same period, we have also seen the emergence of the much-vaunted Reynolds Defence.
    This was supposed provide journalists with a libel defence of qualified privileged for responsible reporting in the public interest.
    In reality, though, it turned out to be worthless. It was rarely used, succeses were scarce, and the standards of ‘responsible journalism’ demanded by judges who knew little or nothing about journalism were too tough to be realistic.
    So – now what? The main priorities seem to be a) making sure that libel laws protect the small guy, as well as the UK mafia and b) deciding what constitutes public interest, if that is to be a defence in the future.
    Here’s my grand solution, which will probably me me a laughing stock, along with Clegg …
    1. Bring in a new law that covers libel and privacy – give some much-needed clarity to the whole lot in one go, especially as the two laws are increasingly intertwined.
    2. Make sure the new law embraces the latest ruling on comment
    3. Use the Press Complaints Commission’s definition of public interest as a benchmark for both libel and privacy, but …
    4. Delete the recent change in the code that requires editors to ‘reasonably believe that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest.’ This clause is ridiculous, as you somtimes have to carry out invasive journalistic activity to see if there is a story to investigate.
    5. Re-structure the PCC as a mediation / arbitration body for breaches of the code of practice, and less serious allegations of libel and breaches of privacy … ie, cases that would involve damages of less than £5,000 if they went to court.
    6. Give civil courts the power to hear libel and privacy cases using the Small Claims Track if PCC mediation is unsuccessful.

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