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Peers Bid to Harmonise Northern Ireland Libel Laws

The libel laws operating in Northern Ireland differ substantially from those elsewhere in the UK, but that could be about to change.

A debate in the House of Lords today on free speech is set to boost a campaign aimed at spurring new legislation to harmonise the law, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

It aims to apply the Defamation Act 2013 to the province, even though the issue is technically the responsibility of the devolved assembly at Stormont. This would remove the presumption of a right to trial by jury, a measure aimed at stopping the UK becoming a 'libel tourism hotspot'.

No vote is planned, but if the words 'and Northern Ireland' are added to the bill, the Westminster government will have to respond with a consultation.

One of the peers behind the move, Telegraph Group head Lord Black said, "We hope that our amendment will help bring about change, building on the recent consultation, which will benefit academics, scientists, journalists and all users of social media."

Section 11 of the legislation states there will be no Jury unless the Court specifically orders there to be one.

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