28 June 2013
NI decides not to follow UK lead on libel
Northern Ireland has decided against following changes to libel legislation that have been passed into law in England and Wales.
Sammy Wilson, Northern Ireland minister for finance and personnel, has remarked the country has "no plans to review the law" in regards to defamation claims.
There have been warnings from some legal experts that this will allow firms to operate so called "libel tourism" that may serve to complicate civil proceedings in England and Wales. This could also increase the strain on an already near-capacity court system in Northern Ireland.
Lord Lester and Lord McNally of the British House of Lords managed to push through delayed changes to the defamation rules recently.
It had previously been complained the UK had antiquated libel laws that repelled foreign investors from putting money into the country - as many were unwilling to risk becoming entangled in lengthy and expensive disputes with other companies and individuals.
However, it is thought the new changes will simplify the system, which had been more or less unchanged for a prolonged period of time and was based on centuries old principles.
Lord Black of Brentwood warned Northern Ireland against refusing to change its libel system and told the Belfast Telegraph: "Over 4,000 people work in publishing in Northern Ireland and another 2,000 work in broadcast.
"Some of those jobs may well be at risk if some of those companies decide that it is now too dangerous to operate in a jurisdiction that stifles freedom of expression."
The Lord also said foreign companies would be unwilling to invest in Northern Ireland because of the added effort that would be needed if it did not mirror the English and Welsh system.
"I can see no circumstances in which Google, Yahoo, AOL, Twitter and others would establish businesses in an area that ties them to an out-of-date, repressive libel jurisdiction," he added.
Contact our media, libel and privacy solicitors on 0800 916 9081 or email email@example.com if you would like advice on any media, libel and privacy matter
Posted by Francesca Witney