The Coroners and Justice Act (2009) decriminalises defamation, including repeal of the criminal offences of sedition and seditious libel, defamatory libel, and obscene libel in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
ARTICLE 19 and our partners have been campaigning for the decriminalisation of defamation in the UK for several years. Criminal defamation has not been used in the UK since the 1970s, but its “chilling effect” remains. Moreover, states around the world justify their persistent use of criminal defamation according to the example set by the UK.
In many countries, criminal defamation laws are abused by the powerful to limit criticism and to stifle public debate. The threat of harsh criminal sanctions, especially imprisonment, exerts a profound chilling effect on freedom of expression.
Now that defamation has been decriminalised, ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to reform the UK’s over-broad civil defamation laws. In particular, the laws should require that plaintiffs should prove the falsity of statements, block foreign plaintiffs from using UK courts to silence non-UK speakers, require courts to consider the public interest in publication, limit excessive lawyers’ fees, which can currently run into millions of pounds in a single case, and update the laws to better protect Internet publications.
• To see which countries still have and use criminal defamation, please visit our global defamation maps at: http://www.article19.org/advocacy/defamationmap/map/
• For more information please contact: Oliver Spencer, firstname.lastname@example.org +44 20 7324 2500.