Northern Ireland news

Reform of Northern Ireland's defamation laws moves a step closer

It is the latest move for the legislation to be brought in line with the Defamation Act 2013

REFORM of Northern Ireland's defamation laws has moved a step closer following the introduction of a Private Member's Bill at Stormont.

Ulster Unionist assembly member Mike Nesbitt, who introduced the bill, has been campaigning for the changes for eight years.

"This has been a long and tortuous road, starting with an attempt to copy the libel reforms in England and Wales passed by Westminster in 2013," he said.

"First, there was the wait as the now defunct Law Commission produced a review, which did not complete until 2016.

"Then there was the three-year hiatus when the assembly did not meet. Finally, there was the hurdle of having to seek the Secretary of State's permission to legislate on websites, which is a `reserved' matter.

"With all those obstacles cleared, I was delighted to receive written confirmation from the Speaker that my bill is competent."

The bill had its first reading on Monday and Mr Nesbitt said if passed it will "ensure a better balance between freedom of speech and the protection of reputations".

In 2016 a report by Dr Andrew Scott of The London School of Economics and Political Science, commissioned by the Department of Finance, recommended the north's libel laws be brought substantially into line with England and Wales.

In January leading QCs and peers in Westminster warned freedom of expression and the freedom to criticise those in positions of power and influence are curtailed without the urgent reform.

They also called for the 66-year-old legislation to be brought in line with the Defamation Act 2013.

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