View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

Criminal libel and sedition offences abolished

By PA Media Lawyer

The outdated offences of criminal libel and sedition have been abolished after the introduction of new laws.

The two offences were disposed of yesterday as Section 73 of the Coroners and Justice 2009 came into effect, sweeping away the old common law offences of sedition, seditious libel, obscene libel and defamatory libel.

Justice Minister Claire Ward said: “Sedition and seditious and defamatory libel are arcane offences – from a bygone era when freedom of expression wasn’t seen as the right it is today.

“Freedom of speech is now seen as the touchstone of democracy, and the ability of individuals to criticise the state is crucial to maintaining freedom.

“The existence of these obsolete offences in this country had been used by other countries as justification for the retention of similar laws which have been actively used to suppress political dissent and restrict press freedom.

“Abolishing these offences will allow the UK to take a lead in challenging similar laws in other countries, where they are used to suppress free speech.”

The old offence of sedition – essentially an attack on the sovereign or institutions of government – included exciting disaffection against the institutions of government with an intention to incite violence or create public disorder.

Content from our partners
Pugpig named best media technology partner of 2024 by AOP
Cannes Lions: The world's best creativity all in one place
L'Equipe signs content syndication deal with The Content Exchange

Seditious libel was publishing seditious material in a written or permanent form.

As common law offences, both sedition and seditious libel were punishable with unlimited fines or imprisonment.

Defamatory libel – in effect a criminal counterpart to the civil defamation – consisted of publishing defamatory matter calculated to expose a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, in a permanent form.

To warrant criminal proceedings, the alleged libel had to be serious enough to justify a prosecution in the public interest.

Criminal libel originally covered four distinct categories of libel: obscenity, blasphemous, defamatory and seditious.

But obscene material is now covered by the Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964, while blasphemous libel was abolished in England and Wales by section 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

The Law Commission provisionally recommended the abolition of the offence of sedition in 1977. In 1985 it recommended replacing the common law offence of defamatory libel with a narrowly drawn statutory offence.

Topics in this article :

Email to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network