Campaigners hit back at lawyers call for more defamation cases

July 7, 2016

Scotland’s top court lawyers, the Faculty of Advocates, have been accused of putting ‘vested interests’ ahead of freedom of speech by opposing reforms to Scotland’s defamation laws.

In 2013 the Libel Reform Campaign secured much-needed changes to the law in England and Wales to ensure that journalists, bloggers and scientists can write freely without the worry of facing litigation or huge legal fines.

Despite this progress in England and Wales, very few of the legal changes secured in 2013 were extended to Scotland. Amid concerns of Scotland becoming a new centre for ‘defamation tourism’, Humanist Society Scotland has joined forces with a range of lawyers, journalists and academics; along with Scottish PEN to campaign for reform of the law in Scotland.

In March 2016, the Scottish Law Commission announced a consultation on a potential review of the defamation laws in Scotland.

However, responding to the consultation, the Faculty of Advocates, representing court lawyers in Scotland, has said that there is no need for reform. It even went as far as to claim that defamation cases contribute “to the economic growth of the nation”.

The Herald has been running a campaign to call for reform of Scotland's defamation law
The Herald has been running a campaign to call for reform of Scotland’s defamation law

In a statement released after the announcement from the Faculty, Scottish PEN said:

“Without reform of defamation laws, the people of Scotland will continue to be deprived of essential protections for free speech. Scientists speaking out in the public interest, journalists investigating corruption and consumer groups exposing risks to public safety have all called for new laws that are fit for the 21st century. This is what has motivated us to call for meaningful reform that protects freedom of expression and ensures powers to protect reputation are available to all, irrespective of income or influence. This call was echoed by nearly 400 people who wrote to the Scottish Law Commission urging it to recommend both a serious harm test and a public interest defence to protect citizens’ abilities to express themselves.”

Scottish PEN added:

“Laws that protect freedom of expression protect everyone and we believe this approach should sit at the heart of any reforms that are taken forward. Encouraging more defamation actions, and limiting reform to ensure this takes place, only benefits vested interests that do not speak for the diverse range of opinions and backgrounds across Scotland.”

Responding to the statement, HSS Head of Communications and Public Affairs, Gary McLelland, said:

“There has been a great deal of success made in England and Wales to reform the law to ensure that it does not unduly disadvantage bloggers, journalists and writers.

“We are proud to be working with our partners at Scottish PEN, the Herald and others to start building the case for reform of the defamation laws in Scotland.”


Notes: For further information or comment please contact Gary McLelland on gary@humanism.scot or 07813060713.

About HSS:
Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 14,000 members across Scotland.

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