defamation scot campaign - reform defamation, protect free speech

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


June 2021

In partnership with the University of Strathclyde School of Humanities, we sought to determine the impact that defamation law as it stood for decades has had on writers in Scotland. On 2nd June 2021 our findings were published.

In this study we hear from over 100 writers, editors, publishers and activists, who detail their experiences of defamation threats and the law, their fears around censorship in public discourse, and their feelings about free expression in Scotland today.

March 2021

On 2nd March 2021, the Scottish Parliament will take a final vote on the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill, and hear the final round of proposed amendments.

Scottish PEN is supporting amendments to section 30 of the Bill proposed by Fulton MacGregor MSP, which would give courts the option to require a notice be published alongside disputed content until a decision has been reached. We hope that this option would reduce the use of orders to remove published content prior to court decision making. Andy Wightman MSP has also proposed changing the proposed ‘serious harm test’ to a ‘real harm’ test, which has less of a focus on financial and reputational harm. Scottish PEN strongly supports the serious harm test, and hopes the broad support shown so far will see the test retained as it is currently proposed. We also hope to see the limitation period for bringing legal action restricted to one year, instead of the current 3 year period which negatively impacts writers and journalists. 

You can watch the debate at the link below. An update will be posted on the Scottish PEN website soon after. 

Scottish Parliament TV

Wednesday 3rd March 2021

On Tuesday 2nd March the Bill is passed unanimously at the Scottish Parliament. Read Scottish PEN’s response to the vote and final draft of the Bill here:

December 2020

Scottish PEN has launched a survey on the impact of defamation law, in partnership with the University of Strathclyde. This study seeks to assess the impact that current law has on writers, journalists, editors and publishers in Scotland. We hope that by building an evidence base in this area, we can highlight issues of importance to writers, better understand how the current law affects people in various settings and make constructive arguments for change.

Responses are anonymous and the survey takes between 10-15 minutes to complete.

November 2020

The findings and recommendations of the Justice Committee’s Stage 1 report on the Bill were debated by the Parliament on Thursday 5th November. We are encouraged to see: Ministers defending a one year limitation on bringing legal action, broad support for the inclusion of a serious harm test, support for the exclusion of secondary publishers from legal action, and acknowledgement of the need to redraft the Bill to ensure private companies delivering public services are not able to bring legal action.

However, we were disappointed that the Justice Committee did not recommend progressing our proposal to introduce an ‘unjustified threat’ action, which would allow those in receipt of unreasonable threats of legal action to request redress.

Watch the debate here.

October 2020

On Wednesday 14th October, the Justice Committee published the Stage 1 report on the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill. Read our response to the report here.

August 2020

The Scottish Parliament has scheduled the oral submission stage of the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill, and Scottish PEN will be participating on Tuesday 25th August (from 10.30am onwards). Watch here:

Justice Committee, August 25, 2020 10:30

April 2020

The Scottish Parliament has delayed the oral submission stage of the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We will share updates here as soon as further information is received.

March 2020

We submitted our evidence to the Justice Committee scrutinising the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill. Read it here.

Andy Wightman MSP has successfully defended the defamation action brought against him by Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC. The full judgement can be read here

January 2020

The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee has announced a call for evidence for the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill. This is the first step towards reforming the law.

For more information about the call for evidence click here –

To read Scottish PEN’s submission click here

For a template email that you can send to the Justice Committee calling for meaningful reform that protects free expression:

December 2019

On Monday 2nd December, the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill was introduced to Scottish Parliament. This follows an earlier Scottish Government Public Consultation earlier this year.

View the bill, policy memorandum and explanatory notes here –

Read the Scottish PEN statement on the bill introduced to parliament here:

August 2019

On Monday 12th August, we sent a letter, signed by 181 Scottish and international writers calling on the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon to commit to defamation reform by including it in the 2019 Programme for Government. This will ensure that a reform bill will be brought forward in the next parliamentary session.

Read the letter here


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:

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


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