Jack Straw pledges libel law overhaul

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Indy Politics

Justice Secretary Jack Straw promised today to take action to overhaul the libel laws if Labour retains power after the general election.

Mr Straw said ministers were now "convinced" that reform of the law in England and Wales was necessary, amid concerns that existing legislation was having a "chilling effect" on freedom of expression.

In a Commons written statement, he said that the Government intended to set out its proposals for change in a draft bill to be published early in the new parliament.

Among the measures that it is looking at is the possible creation of a new public interest defence in relation to "responsible journalism".

At the same time, Mr Straw said ministers were considering procedural changes to curb "libel tourism" which has increasingly seen foreign claimants using English courts in the hope of winning big payouts.

Other measures could include the introduction of a single publication rule which would mean that libel claims would have to be launched within a year of the original publication.

"On the basis of all the views that have been submitted, the Government is convinced that reform of the law on libel is needed, and that action should be taken on a number of aspects and procedures," Mr Straw said.

"The Government believes that the programme of work which it intends to take forward represents an effective and practical way to ensure that our libel laws achieve a fair and just balance which enables people to protect their reputations against defamatory allegations without having a harmful effect on freedom of expression."