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Defamation reform should not be delayed

Find out who signed our letter to the First Minister calling on her to prioritise defamation reform in the upcoming Programme for Government.

July 3, 2018

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. However, 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.

Thanks to the support of Scottish and international writers and activists we have secured 139 signatures to our letter sent to the First Minister calling on her to include defamation reform in the upcoming Programme for Government. This includes Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Julian Barnes, James Robertson, Philippe Sands, Matthew Caruana Galizia and A.L. Kennedy.

Scottish PEN would like to thank everyone who has signed this letter helping us make the case for defamation to be prioritised.

Here is the letter with the full list of signatories.


Dear First Minister,

Please commit to including defamation reform in the upcoming Programme for Government to ensure that free expression is protected in Scotland.

The laws governing defamation in Scotland are out-of-date. They are inadequate when faced with how people across Scotland communicate, source information and reach out to other people. To ensure free expression is protected, defamation must be reformed as soon as possible. Recent movements towards reform, including the evidence session at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, are to be welcomed.  There is a clear and growing consensus around the need for reform, but we cannot be complacent.

Following the publication of the Scottish Law Commission’s final report and draft Bill we are in a strong position to reform the law, bringing forward changes to establish 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. Every one of these reforms strengthens free expression and ensures that public debate is not controlled or stifled by powerful vested interests.

It is critical that law reform is orderly, democratic and evidence-based. We welcome the public consultation on defamation reform as an essential way to involve the whole community in the discussion about how defamation could and should be reformed. However, the public consultation need not delay a principled commitment from the Scottish Government to begin the legislative process to reform defamation law during the next parliamentary term. To this end, we call on you to commit to including defamation reform in your Programme for Government for 2018/19.

Protecting free expression cannot wait any longer. Every moment reform is delayed, writers, academics, scientists, journalists and social media users remain at risk from being threatened by legal action on the most minor of issues.

By incorporating defamation reform into the 2018 Programme for Government you will send a powerful signal to people across Scotland that free expression is both valued and protected and that Scotland prioritises laws that accurately represents the country as it is, not the country it used to be.

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact Scottish PEN’s project manager, Nik Williams.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Aitken

Colin Alexander

Frank Mackay Anim-Appiah

Jane Archer (Scottish PEN Writers At Risk Committee Chair)

Dr Peter Ashby

Nguyên Hoàng Bao Viêt

Julian Barnes

Meg Bateman

Gillian Beattie-Smith

Nan Black

Russell Borland

Aileen Brady

Nicole Brandon

Paul Broda

Chris Brookmyre

Ron Butlin

Jenni Calder (Scottish PEN Membership Secretary)

James Campbell

Karen Campbell

Andrew Campbell (Scottish PEN Trustee)

Donald Campbell

Joyce Caplan (Scottish PEN Trustee)

Gerard Carruthers (Scottish PEN Trustee)

Matthew Caruana Galizia

Anne Clarke

Jennifer Clement (PEN International President)

Penelope Cole

Anne Connolly

Yvonne Coppard

Joan Craig

Ian Crockatt

Anna Crowe

Fiona Davidson

Robert Dawson Scott

Brendan De Caires

Fiona De Salle

Meaghan Delahunt

Antonio Della Rocca (PEN Trieste President)

Colin Donati (Scottish PEN Trustee)

Gillian Duff

Lloyd Duong

Linsey Fairlie

Una Leonie Flett

Roddy Forsyth

Maureen Freely (English PEN Chair of Trustees)

Iain Galbraith

Heidi Goehrke

Fiona Graham (Scottish PEN Trustee)

Alison Gray

Stephanie Green

Guy Gunaratne

Diana Hendry

Mark Hillen

Martin Hillman

Elizabeth Holley

Lilly Hunter

Brian Johnstone

Jean Johnstone

A.L. Kennedy

Peter Kinnear

Stephanie Knight

Kevin Lelland

Douglas Lipton

Robin Lloyd-Jones

Neil Mac Neil

John MacDonald

Mary MacDonald

Rhona MacLeod

Aonghas MacNeacail

Anne Marie Madden

Iain Maloney

David Manderson (Scottish PEN Trustee)

Robyn Marsack

Felicity Martin

John Matthews

Mary McCabe

Linda McCorrison

Val McDermid

James McEnaney

Rosalind McInnes

Patricia Ann Melsom

Ricky Monahan Brown (Scottish PEN Trustee)

Fiona Montgomery

Anne B. Murray

Hege Newth Nouri (Norsk PEN General Secretary)

Liz Niven (Scottish PEN Writers In Exile Chair)

Bernard Odendaal

Margie Orford (PEN International Board Member & PEN South Africa Board Member)

Robert Philip

John Pilkington

Erik Vlaminck (Belgium/Flanders PEN President)

Paulo Quadros

Jean Rafferty

Adam Ramsay

Dorothy Rankin

Ian Rankin

Cathy Ratcliff

Elizabeth Reeder (Scottish PEN Women Writer’s Committee Chair)

Darren Reid

Dr. Mario Relich (Scottish PEN Secretary)

Jonathan Rimmer

Fiona Rintoul

Richard Roberts

James Robertson

Colin Campbell Robinson

Eamonn Rodgers

German Rojas

Trevor Royle

Philippe Sands (English PEN President)

John Ralston Saul

Andrew Murray Scott

David Scott

David Graham Scott

Rebecca Sharp

Sara Sheridan

Jane Simmons

Elaine Singer

Dennis Smith

Burhan Sönmez (PEN International Co-opted Board Member)

Martin Stepek

Leslie Stevenson

Marga Stoffer

Zoe Strachan

Ian Taylor

Marsali Taylor

Lindsay Thomson

Andrew Tickell (Scottish PEN Trustee)

Alexander Tiffin

John Toner

Sheila Tulloch

Brian Underwood

Fiona Valpy

Louise Welsh

Catrina Wessels

Andy Wightman MSP

Douglas Stuart Wilson

Susan Windram

Han Zaw


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