UK Defamation Reform Update: McAlpine Scandal Raises Questions

Picture of British guards to accompany post about UK defamation reform
UK defamation reform negotiations are going as well as the NHL lockout talks. Not only have both debates dragged, but in both situations, one day it’s *this,* and the next day it’s *that.*

People Are Concerned About Free Speech

In the latest turn of events, the Joint Committee on Human Rights shared its opinions about online libel provisions included in the UK defamation reform draft. In short, the committee thinks the law, if passed as is, will significantly “chill” free speech in the country. Specifically, critics feel the current wording forces website operators to remove material that may not be libelous.

If the latest draft of the U.K. defamation reform bill passes, courts would force Social media companies to hand over the names of “trolls”. In other words, anonymous free speech would no longer exist in the United Kingdom. (Update: This is more true than you think. Read more here.)

McAlpine Scandal Casts Shadow Over UK Defamation Reform Negotiations

Without a doubt, the Lord McAlpine scandal has plowed into libel reform discussions. For better or worse, pundits can point to a substantial scandal while bellowing about the perils of “weak online libel laws.”

What Is The Main Concern With The Current Language?

People who take umbrage with the draft’s present language insist that “there should be a higher threshold put in place before material has to be removed.” Those in favor of the new provisions argue that removing salacious material will reduce the number of lawsuits against website operators. In essence: if you simply hinder free speech from the beginning, there will be fewer free speech lawsuits.

Who knows what twists and turns lie ahead. As was augured earlier, it’ll probably be a long time before any significant changes are made to the U.K.’s defamation laws. (Update: Defamation Act of 2013 went into effect on January 1, 2014).

(Oh, and, as for the NHL? Well, it looks like we’ll know more by January 11.)

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