Friday, 7 January 2011

Reform of Libel laws in the UK

Liberal Democrats have a proud tradition of speaking out for liberty and freedom. One of the key ways in which the Liberal Democrat contribution to this government will be acknowledged is by its record on civil liberties.
So we should be judging ourselves, and we will rightly be judged by others, on what is done by ministers to make this country a place where our precious liberties are safeguarded.
Labour's record - always opposed by the Lib Dems - was very damaging. Not only to our rights and freedoms, but to our reputation in the world.
That's why civil liberty campaigners are taking a very close look at what the Coalition is doing. We have already seen many of our priorities delivered - the scrapping of ID cards, the end of child detention and the instigation of an enquiry into allegations of the UK's complicity in torture. But there are decades of restrictive legislation to repeal.
So I am sure that, like me, you were pleased to hear Nick Clegg, give a major speech today on civil liberties - not something that a Labour Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister ever did.
One liberty that underpins many other freedoms is free speech. It is under assault in this country.
Lib Dems have a proud record in defending free expression. Lib Dem Peer Lord Lester and I led the campaign to defeat Tony Blair over the religious hatred legislation, and we also prompted the abolition just three years ago of England's preposterous laws of sedition, criminal defamation and blasphemy.
Today Nick talked about the Government's plans for libel reform, yet another liberal campaign that our party has championed nationally. We were the first party to commit to new liberalising legislation - at our 2009 conference.
Shortly after I founded the Libel Reform Campaign, a year ago, I saw Nick address the country's top scientists at the Royal Society, who were concerned about the chilling of scientific debate by vested interests, and he made libel reform one of our manifesto commitments.
So, how welcome it was, today, to hear Nick, as Deputy Prime Minister, announce that there would be draft Libel Reform Bill in this session of Parliament and that it would include key liberalising ingredients. We are taking the opportunity to promote free expression and to end the ill-gotten reputation of Britain as the libel capital of the world.
Nick also clearly indicated that the government will end the ineffective and unjustified restrictions of the control orders regime and that the Freedom of Information laws - that New Labour never liked - would now be widened.
This country is starting to reclaim its liberties. And our party is the driving force for that.
Evan Harris

Vice Chair, Federal Policy Committee

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