Fears that Leveson Inquiry will delay libel law reform

The Government's planned changes to English libel laws should not wait or be delayed by the outcome of Lord Justice Leveson's review of press ethics and practices, according to a leading campaigner on defamation reform.

At the Leveson Inquiry yesterday, John Kampfner, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, said it would be a "tragedy" if the reforms that are expected to be included in the Queen's Speech in May were put on hold because of the ongoing investigations of the inquiry.

A draft of the anticipated defamation Bill has already been completed. Mr Kampfner said he hoped to see it form part of the next legislative term.

In testimony to the inquiry that included concerns that British politicians remained wedded to a culture of obstruction and secrecy, Mr Kampfner revealed that the unresolved issues still being thrown up the inquiry could be used to block libel reforms.

He told the inquiry that viewed from abroad, the current legal structure of English libel was seen as a deterrent to free speech.

He said Barack Obama had recently helped sign into US law the Speech Act, which aimed to protect American citizens from the effects of libel rulings in British courts.

Mr Kampfner told the inquiry that Parliament had "rolled over" on the issue of super-injunctions, but had not done enough on issues relating to freedom of expression.