Scottish PEN Seek Reform of Law on Defamation

Scottish PEN Seek Reform of Law on Defamation

Scottish PEN is working with a range of organisations to reform the legislation governing defamation in Scotland. As it stands, the existing legislation severely undermines freedom of expression, limiting the ability of media outlets, bloggers, social media users and civil society to share information in the public interest. The ability for powerful interests to suppress free speech thus presents a challenge to fundamental freedoms.

The concern is that libel reform in England and Wales makes Scotland a soft target for those who wish to silence their critics across the UK. In England and Wales, citizens now have more freedom to debate the issues that matter to ordinary people. Members of the Scottish Parliament, however, have never been given the chance to address this area of law. Citizen campaigners and investigative journalists in Scotland can still face defamation threats from wealthy individuals and companies who do not care to be criticized, and there is now a risk that libel tourists will start bringing cases to Edinburgh.

Scotland’s last reform to its law of defamation took place long before the world wide web was a reality. The consequence of this is that it leaves millions of users (e.g. Twitter, Facebook and Tripadvisor users) at risk of being sued.

“A modern and open nation like Scotland deserves a defamation law that is fit for purpose in the 21st century: one that acknowledges the existence of the internet, and enables journalists and authors to conduct a robust debate on matters of public interest.”

– Ian Rankin and James Kelman

The Scottish Government initially rejected moves to reform libel laws along the lines of England and Wales. However, the Scottish Law Commission is now looking at potential reforms to libel, amid a growing awareness among lawmakers and lawyers of this serious weakness in legislation.

The current disparity between Scottish and English law continues to cause confusion on both side of the border, forcing publishers, journalists and writers throughout the UK to be more risk averse to avoid being sued in Scotland.

“We currently have a two-tiered system that opens up writers, journalists and publishers throughout the UK to undue threats that severely limit what can be published, as they are open to the threat of defamation in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

– Scottish PEN

Scottish PEN is leading the call for fair and transparent guidelines that maintain robust public interest protections and fully take on board online and social media publications.

“Only then can we be sure that the UK remains a safe and free place for journalists, writers and publishers to operate.”

– Scottish PEN

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