Defamation reform should not be delayed

Help us call on the First Minister to prioritise defamation reform in the upcoming Programme for Government. Protections for free expression should not be delayed any longer.

We have made so much progress towards much-needed reform of defamation laws in Scotland. As the current law has not been substantially reformed in 22 years, it is wholly inadequate faced with the revolution brought by the Internet to how we communicate, source information, express ourselves and hold the powerful to account.

Reform is long overdue, but we are closer than we have been in many years. After the Scottish Law Commission published its draft bill and final report, a number of vital reforms have been put forward that will transform defamation law in Scotland. Key reforms include the establishment of a serious harm threshold to dissuade trivial cases or those brought solely to silence criticism; a statutory defence of publication on a matter of public interest; and a single-publication rule to ensure the time period within which a defamation action can be brought does not restart every time a link or post is shared or viewed online. These are significant steps forward to ensure public discourse is not controlled or stifled by powerful or wealthy interests.

Recent movements are to be welcomed. The Scottish Government has expressed an interest in changing the law. Last month, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee heard evidence from Scottish PEN, BBC Scotland, the Law Society of Scotland and others about what potential reform could and should look like. The Scottish Government is preparing a public consultation.

But we cannot be complacent.

Reports suggest defamation reform will not be included in Nicola Sturgeon’s next Programme for Government, leaving September 2019 representing the next opportunity for this much-needed reform to be introduced. If reform is delayed for a year, we will have a year of inadequate laws that fail to protect free expression and continue to prioritise the interests of the pursuers.

To call on the First Minister to include defamation reform in the 2018 Programme for Government we have drafted a letter we will send to Nicola Sturgeon on 27th July 2018. We ask that if you want to join us calling for defamation reform to be prioritised please sign your name here: 

If we can all show our commitment to the importance of reform we can send a powerful signal to the Scottish Government that we should not delay vital protections for free expression.

Tags: defamation Defamation and Malicious Publications Bill defamation reform defamationScot Nicola Sturgeon Programme for Government Scottish Government