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07 January 2021

Lords To Debate Northern Ireland Defamation Regime

Peers are to debate the defamation regime in Northern Ireland on Monday amid ongoing concerns about the failure to bring the province into line with England and Wales and crack down on libel tourism and the threat to freedom of speech there.

Members of the House of Lords will debate the issue following an oral question by Lord Lexden asking Government what recent discussions they have had with the Northern Ireland Executive about extending the Defamation Act 2013 to Northern Ireland.

Peers have previously highlighted the frustration in Northern Ireland that the Defamation Act 2013 had not been brought into effect in Northern Ireland, leading to Belfast gaining the “unenviable position” as the “new libel capital of Europe.”

Speaking in 2019, Lord Black of Brentwood said that the failure to introduce the Act in Northern Ireland amounted to a denial of fundamental human rights to the people of Northern Ireland, impacted negatively on local media and scientific and academic debate in the province, and was damaging democracy.  

He quoted from letters from the editor of the News Letter, who said the “need for libel reform in Northern Ireland is now more urgent than it has ever been” and the editor of the Belfast Telegraph, who said “an extension of the Act to Northern Ireland is long overdue.”

The News Media Association has campaigned for the regime in Northern Ireland to be brought into line with England and Wales to crack down on the threat to freedom of speech in the province.