Libel law reform at threat as House of Lords passes Lord Puttnam's Defamation Bill changes

Film producer proposes statutory regulation of the press and for publishers to face 'exemplary damages'

Plans to reform Britain’s arcane libel laws have been thrown into doubt after the House of Lords last night approved amendments introduced to the Defamation Bill by the film producer Lord Puttnam.

The bill, which has been three years in the making and had been intended to dispel the reputation of the High Court in London as the “libel capital of the world”, faces being scrapped.

Lord Puttnam introduced a series of changes to the legislation as a means of indicating the unhappiness in the Upper House at the failure of the Government to introduce proposals for press reform recommended by Lord Justice Leveson following his long running inquiry.

But the Labour peer’s amendment went further than Leveson and included plans for publishers to face “exemplary damages” and be answerable to a press regulator with statutory underpinning and an appointments panel headed by the Lord Chief Justice. He advocated that publishers would face extreme fines if they failed to secure “pre-clearance” for stories from an arbitrator.

Yesterday, during a third reading of the bill in the House of Lords, a new amendment by the former cabinet minister Lord Fowler struck out this “prior scrutiny” requirement, but the remainder of the Puttnam amendments were voted through.

The Defamation bill returns to the House of Commons where Conservatives are determined to stop it in its present form. But their ability to have the Puttnam changes removed is dependent on persuading Labour and the Liberal Democrats of the merits of a Royal Charter to implement Leveson without the use of law. Labour has publicly been critical of such an approach.

As a result, campaigners for freedom of speech – who have attacked the illiberal nature of the film producer’s proposals - fear the much anticipated libel reforms are in jeopardy. “It’s very disappointing,” said Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index on Censorship. “It still has the ability to completely undermine the Defamation bill and has confused Leveson with the libel bill. It’s really damaging game playing by Labour.” She described the “prior scrutiny” idea as a “tool of authoritarian regimes”.

Libel law reformers have been anxious to emphasise that the Defamation bill, which had all party support and was championed by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, was not simply a press bill but was designed to protect all forms of publishers including bloggers, citizen journalists and scientific researchers.

Jo Glanville, director of the worldwide writers’ association English PEN, also said she was deeply unhappy with the Puttnam amendment. “Lord Fowler’s amendment has mildly improved it – that part was really unacceptable. But the key is what happens next. [The Government] hope the salvation is going to come over a deal being done over the Royal Charter.”

Lord McNally, the Justice minister responsible for the bill, said he hoped it could be rescued in the Commons. “I hope by the time it comes back the Puttnam amendment is out of the Defamation bill so that it is left as a single entity and the tri-party talks allow us to implement Leveson.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing