Observations Medicine and the Media

Do proposed libel law reforms go far enough?

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d2198 (Published 06 April 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2198
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent, BMJ
  1. ClareDyer{at}aol.com

The government’s draft Defamation Bill meets only half the demands of campaigners. Clare Dyer considers whether this is enough to prevent the chilling effect on legitimate scientific debate that the current law enables

“We cannot continue to tolerate a culture in which scientists, journalists, and bloggers are afraid to tackle issues of public importance for fear of being sued,” declared the United Kingdom’s deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, welcoming his government’s keenly awaited draft Defamation Bill. But how far will the bill go to assuage concerns that threats of libel action are chilling scientific debate?

Open for consultation until 10 June, the draft bill may undergo considerable change on the route to enactment, probably in 2012. Two reforms that have been demanded by campaigners—a ban on companies suing for libel, and better protection for web hosts and internet service providers—are not in the bill. Instead, consultees are asked their opinion on how these issues should be taken forward. Should companies be barred altogether, as proposed by the Campaign for Libel Reform, which demands much of the credit for pushing legal reform up the agenda, or should there be some lesser restrictions?

Reform is important for the likes of Peter Wilmshurst, the interventional cardiologist who was a lead investigator in a …

View Full Text

Sign in

Log in through your institution

Free trial

Register for a free trial to thebmj.com to receive unlimited access to all content on thebmj.com for 14 days.
Sign up for a free trial

Subscribe