01 October 2009

Input Sought on Libel Law

The British government is seeking public input on the multiple-publication rule, under which each publication of defamatory material can form the basis of a new legal claim, the World Association of Newspapers' Shaping the Future of Newspapers blog reports.

The proliferation of online archives has prompted the review. The current rule facilitates "libel tourism," or forum shopping, in which plaintiffs with few or no ties to the United Kingdom bring suit here -- where libel laws are more likely to be in their favour -- because the material in question is available online.

Comments for and against adopting a single-publication rule are being collected online through December 16.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has called for an update to existing defamation law to make it "fit for the modern age," according to a recent summary of the issue inThe Times.

In March, The Times took a test case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the multiple publication rule was so onerous a burden for newspapers in the internet age that it had a chilling effect on their right to free speech.

ECHR judges dismissed the case but noted the need for restraints.

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