One of the few remaining Liberal Democrats left with any credibility, Anthony Lester, Baron Lester of Herne Hill no less, is putting before the commons a private members bill proposing changes to inadequate legislation regarding liable, slander and defamation. This might seem a little boring to those of us who strike fag ash covered computer keyboards with curry stained fingers and lash out with aplomb at anything that takes our fancy. But bloggers might wish to take the can of Special Brew off the open CD-ROM drive for a moment and consider his Defamation Bill.
The 1996 Defamation Act was passed into law without any reference or consideration of the present day power of the internet, but still governs everything we choose to post on our blogs. If this humble blog were to suggest that, for example, the Leader of Council went around at the dead of night removing the gold fillings from pensioners teeth for personal financial gain; that would be a clear and indefensible case of defamation and could possibly involve a custodial sentence. Basically, it would be a malicious lie. The current law, however, could result in a similar sanction if this humble blog suggested that he was not particularly good at his job.
The bill proposed by my Lord Lester introduces a defence against charges of defamation in the interests of responsible publication on a matter of public interest and actually allows statements of fact, inferences and opinions. What’s not to like.
The current law allows multiple law suits if an alleged defamatory statement is republished or reproduced. Think about that before you click on the Twitter re tweet button. The new bill wants to legally change “fair comment” to “honest opinion” in terms of public interest and, much more importantly, change “justification defence” to “defence of truth”. If the bill is passed, those caught with their trousers down or hands in the till cannot sue a humble blog such as this.
The current law, enacted in 1996, is quite robust. It states that a claimant has to prove that there was a malicious intent to defame someone and protects printers, third party publishers and syndicated editors from being associated with the alleged defamation. That law concerned itself only with newspaper and television editors and the people who produced the finished article. It was passed into law before the words Google, Wikipedia and Blog were ever uttered by man, woman or machine. Times have changed but the law hasn`t.
If the Lester bill fails, those of us who rather enjoy blogging and holding the increasingly bizarre people who claim to own this land to account, will find ourselves classed as criminals. For the record, Cameron, Clegg, Osborne, Cable and every council leader in the country, eat babies for pudding and they have all got it in for me.
Your witness, m`learned friend.