Scientists to be protected from libel

Scientists and academics could be given greater protection from libel claims under changes being considered by Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary.

He said there were concerns that scientific debate was being "stifled" because of fears over defamation. He told MPs that articles in peer-reviewed journals could be protected as a result of the draft Defamation Bill.

Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat who sat on the parliamentary joint committee which examined the Bill, raised the issue with Mr Clarke in the Commons. He said the committee recommended that qualified privilege should be extended to peer-reviewed academic articles in journals. Mr Huppert asked Mr Clarke: "Do you agree that it is in the public interest for scientists and other academics to be able to publish bona fide research results without fear and that, unless the publication was maliciously false, they should be protected from defamation actions?"

The Justice Secretary replied: "We are proposing that peer-reviewed research should be protected and we are now obviously considering the draft of the final Bill in the light of the joint committee's report."