The Justice Committee has today published the Stage 1 report on the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill. Scottish PEN welcomes the report but highlights the need to progress a one-year limit on bringing defamation action.October 14, 2020
The Justice Committee has today published the Stage 1 report on the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill. Scottish PEN welcomes the report but highlights the need to progress a one-year limit on bringing defamation action.
Scottish PEN is pleased to read that the Justice Commitee supports the general principles of the Bill, including:
We are also encouraged to read that some of the other important aspects of the Bill we raised in our response to the committee are under consideration. These include:
We have also argued that the restriction on bringing defamation action should apply to public authorities and private entities where criticism is directed at the delivery of public services. We are therefore pleased to read that further consideration will be taken around the codification of the Derbyshire principle. Scottish PEN will continue to argue that private providers of public services should not be able to resort to defamation law to silence those who are critical of how these companies deliver public services.
While we are disappointed that the Justice Committee has not pressed the Scottish Government to incorporate Scottish PEN’s innovative unjustified threats action into the Bill, we are encouraged by the Committee’s recognition that baseless threats of defamation action needs to be addressed. We believe introducing an unjustified threats action would be a practical and effective way of doing so.
We remain firm in our call to introduce a one-year limitation period on bringing defamation action. The Bill proposes reducing the current three-year period to one year, but the Stage 1 report states that a further review of evidence is required. For publishers facing threats of defamation action, this period contributes importantly to the chilling effect, as legal actions can effectively be “held over” publishers over a three year period, with no clarity about whether a court action will or will not be pursued.
We will continue to argue in favour of the one-year limit and will closely monitor this issue going forward.
‘The ability for the powerful to chill free speech demonstrates a challenge to Scotland’s ongoing commitment to protecting fundamental freedoms. We are pleased to see several of our recommendations are being considered seriously but will continue to campaign for the introduction of a one-year limit on the pursuit of legal action.
Our Scottish Chilling report demonstrates the impact that the threat of legal action can have on the willingness of Scotland-based writers to cover sensitive topics in their work. It is essential that the Bill provides safeguards for individuals from companies or those with powerful interests who wish to silence reasonable criticism and comment.’Lisa Clark, Scottish PEN Project Manager
The Stage 1 report is available online here.
A press release which accompanies the report is available here
Find out more about our defamation reform campaign here
Read our response to the Justice Committee here.