Without reform of defamation laws, the people of Scotland will continue to be deprived of essential protections for free speech.July 6, 2016
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 motivated us to call for meaningful reform that protects freedom of expression and ensures powers to protect reputation are available to all, irrespective of income or influence. This call was echoed by nearly 400 people who wrote to the Scottish Law Commission urging it to recommend both a serious harm test and a public interest defence to protect citizens’ abilities to express themselves.
As a result, we are disheartened by the Faculty of Advocates’ submission to the Scottish Law Commission that seeks to encourage defamation actions in order to contribute “to the economic growth of the nation”, regardless of the impact of out-of-date and inadequate laws that currently govern defamation in Scotland. Encouraging defamation actions as a way to stimulate growth threatens to create a financial imperative towards limiting freedom of expression. This will only benefit wealthier pursuers at the expense of civil society across the country.
Seeing this as an economic driver alone, ignores the impact of defamation laws on civil society, media outlets, bloggers, scientific research, social media users and everyone across the country who everyday contribute to the national debate on key issues of public interest.
Laws that protect freedom of expression protect everyone and we believe this approach should sit at the heart of any reforms that are taken forward. Encouraging more defamation actions, and limiting reform to ensure this takes place, only benefits vested interests that do not speak for the diverse range of opinions and backgrounds across Scotland.
Further reading: The Herald (Scotland) article from 6 Jul 2016: Freedom of Speech campaign hits back at lawyers’ calls for more defamation actions
The Faculty of Advocates’ statement from 5 Jul 2016: Scotland “needs more defamation cases”