Defamation Reform

The overall aim of the campaign is to update and reform defamation law so that it:
* Accurately reflects the modern media landscape, offering effective protection for freedom of expression
* Ensures reputations can be protected in a manner available to everyone, not solely the rich and powerful
* Provides safeguards for individuals from companies or those with powerful interests seeking to silence reasonable criticism and comment

To find out more about this campaign or see how you can take part, please contact Nik Williams at defamation@scottishpen.org.

As a partner in the Libel Reform Campaign, Scottish PEN is working with a range of partners to reform defamation law in Scotland. The existing legislation severely undermines freedom of expression, limiting the ability of media outlets, bloggers, social media users and civil society to share information in the public interest. The ability for the powerful to chill free speech demonstrates a challenge to Scotland’s ongoing commitment to protecting fundamental freedoms.

The overall aim of the campaign is to update and reform defamation law so that it:

  • Accurately reflects the modern media landscape, offering effective protection for freedom of expression
  • Ensures reputations can be protected in a manner available to everyone, not solely the rich and powerful
  • Provides safeguards for individuals from companies or those with powerful interests seeking to silence reasonable criticism and comment

Specific points we see as essential to the reformed law include:

  • The inclusion of a serious harm test that discourages trivial claims that can chill free expression and inundate Scottish courts with ‘vanity’ cases;
  • The creation of a statutory public interest defence that protects the publication of information that benefits public debate and informs civil society across Scotland;
  • Restricting corporate and public bodies suing for defamation. Corporate bodies do not have a private life, personal identity or psychological integrity. In the spirit of a law to protect citizens and the rights of citizen critics, corporate bodies and associations should be restricted in their ability to sue for defamation;
  • A single publication rule to replace the multiple publication rule, which currently counts every hit on a website as a new publication of the material on it and therefore a potential fresh cause of defamation action. A single publication rule best reflects communication in the digital age;
  • Defamation law to be brought up to date for the digital age. The law as it stands makes internet service providers (ISPs), forum hosts and similar entities liable for material published by them/on them. The law should ask claimants to approach authors of material before ISPs become liable for it, to prevent ISPs being forced to take material down in the face of defamation threats.

Case studies

Latest news and writing from Defamation Reform

Andy Wightman MSP, Defamation & Public Interest Reporting

Scottish PEN condemns the action brought against Andy Wightman MSP and calls for reform to adequately protect free expression & public interest reporting.

February 27, 2017

Defamation Quiz: Results!

Thank you for taking our Defamation Quiz on Buzzfeed! Here is your complete result: Let’s see! If you’ve communicated with someone else with an accusation they deem to be defamatory they could sue you, even if no one else has seen it. Scottish defamation law does not require third-party communication for a defamation claim. If […]

August 5, 2016

Statement on Faculty of Advocates

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 […]

July 6, 2016

Letter to The Herald regarding a free press and Angela Haggerty

Scottish PEN is concerned by the news that Angela Haggerty has been dismissed from her position as columnist at the Sunday Herald for showing her support for fellow journalist Graham Spiers. EDIT: It was announced on 18th Feb that Angela Haggerty would be returning to the Sunday Herald, with her first column back appearing on 21st Feb. Journalists and writers require […]

January 29, 2016