We had seen the Defamation Bill, which makes its return to the House of Commons today, as a long overdue opportunity for this country to divest itself of its reputation as the libel capital of the world. Regrettably, it appears that, in one crucial aspect at least, that opportunity has been lost.
An amendment adopted by cross-party consensus in the House of Lords had stipulated that companies should have to show financial damage, or a realistic prospect thereof, before they could bring a suit for libel. Ministers announced last night that they would overturn that amendment. A requirement to show financial damage would have protected newspapers and others from threats of an expensive libel suit designed primarily to intimidate and silence. Without it, the cards will remain stacked in favour of wealthy companies and against those who would legitimately call them to account.