Lord Lester Credit: Justice.org.uk
Lord Lester spoke in support of the government's draft defamation consultation paper and bill today, calling it "an extraordinarily open and intelligent document”.

Giving oral evidence to the newly formed joint committee on the draft defamation bill Lester, who drafted his own bill to reform libel law, was asked for his thoughts on the government bill currently under consultation.

He said he was "very happy indeed" with the content of the draft bill in general terms.

"There are issues raised in the consultation where the bill could go further, and on the whole where that's suggested I would be in favour of going further.

"In general terms I think this is an extremely good bill when it is added to in the way that's being envisaged. I think it will be a bill that can endure, and not lead to further incremental legislation and that is our objective."

Following publication of the government's draft defamation bill the Libel Reform Campaign – which comprises English PEN, Sense About Science and Index on Censorship – called for a number of additional points to be added, such as "radical restrictions" on the ability of corporations to sue in libel to protect their reputations.

Speaking before the committee today Lord Lester said he did not support the view that companies or corporations should be made "handicapped" or unable to sue under the legislation.

In his own bill he had instead said a company should have to show serious financial harm or the likelihood of serious financial harm.

"The wrong which the law of defamation seeks to deal with is harm to reputation.

"A trading corporation or other body, whether its a corporation or not, has a reputation. It is different from an individual human being, because a human being has feelings and corporations obviously don't have personal feelings.

"But a corporation or other public body, say a trade union, university or even a government body, can be severely harmed in their reputation by scurrilous and false allegations against them.

"And, therefore, they need to be able to have effective remedies to vindicate their reputation.

"But what really troubles us about corporations, is not that they are corporations, it could be a one man company, which would be almost indistinguishable as me.

"What really worries us is the big corporation, the multi-national, or a big body of any kind which has unequal power compared to a normal man or woman.

"...They all have reputations and are all entitled, in my view, to the right to be vindicated if they come to harm.

"But the real problem is how do you strike a better balance so that the little person, whether a claimant or defendant, is able to have access to justice with out being deterred by litigation or costs."

Image provided by Justice.org.uk

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