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Northern Ireland Libel Row Rages On

Northern Ireland Libel Row Rages On

There is a strong populist case for changing Northern Ireland's current libel legislation, according to Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader Mike Nesbitt, who claims that 90 per cent of the respondents to his public consultation support calls to change the laws.

Mr Nesbitt's Private Member's Bill aims to bring the law in Northern Ireland into line with Westminster, reports BBC News.

The Defamation Act came into force in England and Wales following a five year campaign by legal activists, although not every change they wanted to force was included in the legislative shift.

Speaking at the time, English PEN director Jo Glanville urged Northern Ireland to adopt the act - if it does not, cases could be heard in Belfast, thus undermining the change in Great Britain.

"To my mind, this reform is essential. The libel laws are so old they pre-date the internet, which is now the primary source of information for so many of our citizens," said Mr Nesbitt.

He criticised former finance minister Sammy Wilson for declining to raise the act with the assembly, despite the obvious public support for reform.

"The result is that Northern Ireland is currently a place apart within the United Kingdom, and not in a good way. Our people - all our people - are at a disadvantage, because of the far-reaching implications of operating laws that are different to England and Wales," added the Strangford MLA.

According to Mr Nesbitt, not reforming Northern Ireland's libel laws could hamper the country's efforts to become a hub for creative industry as well as putting pressure on local newspapers and making it more difficult for them to compete with their rivals on the mainland.

Only one per cent of the population agree with Sammy Wilson that the current laws are as good as they could be, concluded the politician.

Recently, the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland was forced to apologise to a former director of Northern Ireland Water as well as stumping up £90,000 to cover his legal costs, reports the Belfast Telegraph.

Posted by Francesca Witney

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