Houses of Parliament

While the bill has been given its first reading, a date for a second reading has not yet been set

Credit: alancleaver_2000 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The Defamation Bill has been published on the Parliament website, after being introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday and receiving its first reading, including a defence for website operators who do not themselves post content online and a single publication rule.

Libel reform campaigners announced a "victory" this week when defamation legislation was identified in the Queen's Speech as an area Parliament will address in the coming year.

Today Michael Harris of Index on Censorship, one of the three bodies which makes up the Libel Reform Campaign, told the bill was "good in part" but appeared "cautious" in some areas.

This included, he said, certain recommendations given by the joint committee on the draft defamation bill, such as in relation to corporations and the public interest, were not mirrored in the bill. The government responded to the committee's recommendations at the time, indicating how it may proceed.

This included the inclusion of a requirement of serious harm, as the bill states: "A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant."

In response to the Queen's Speech yesterday, but prior to publication of the bill online, Index on Censorship editor Jo Glanville said there is now "a chance for libel legislation that’s fit for the  21st century".

"The introduction of the single publication rule and greater protection for internet service providers will help to put an end to the chilling effect online."

No date had been given for the bill's second reading at the time of writing. In March, Justice Minister Lord McNally said that if libel reform were included in the Queen's Speech then "the parliamentary process" will give both houses of parliament "the opportunity to scrutinise, debate and amend the bill as it makes its way through parliament".

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