The Liberal Democrats used today’s manifesto launch to pledge libel law reforms in England and Wales that include a commitment to see the burden of proof placed back onto the claimant in certain cases.
The Lib Dems today vowed to “protect free speech, investigative journalism and academic peer-review publishing” by requiring corporations to show damage and prove malice or recklessness in libel cases.
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Unlike most other laws, current libel legislation places the burden of proof on defendants forcing them to prove their innocence.
Under proposals outlined today that would be reversed in some circumstances with defences against libel enhanced even more through the provision of a “responsible journalism defence”.
The Liberal Democrat commitments go beyond proposals outlined by the Ministry of Justice in the shelved Libel Reform Bill. It focussed on libel tourism, the introduction of a single online publication rule and consideration of a statutory defence to protect publication in the public interest.
Both the Labour Party and the Conservatives also pledged to support libel law reform earlier this week with the launch of their election manifestos.
Today’s commitments were welcomed by campaigners. A spokesman for the Libel Reform Campaign told Press Gazette the Liberal Democrats’ plans marked a “big shift” from the current system.
He said: “We are delighted the Liberal Democrats have made such a bold commitment.
“All three parties are now committed to reform libel laws, whoever forms the next government reform is in their manifesto, but today we have seen the meatiest proposals.”
The Liberal Democrats also vowed to support a diverse, independent, regional and local media by “enabling partnerships between TV, radio and newspaper companies to reduce costs”.
The manifesto also pledges to limit the competition local newspapers face from council-run freesheets when looking to secure paid-for advertising.
The BBC would remain “free from interference and securely funded” to provide impartial news, the Liberal Democrats’ pledged, however the manifesto said it would ensure that the corporation “does not undermine the viability of other media providers through unfair competition based on public-funding and its dominant position”.