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12 December 2019

Scottish Government Introduces Defamation Law Reforms Bill To Parliament

The Scottish Government has brought forward new legislation to modernise and simplify defamation law in the country by striking a better balance between protecting someone’s reputation and freedom of expression.

The Defamation and Malicious Publication Bill, which has been welcomed by the Scottish Newspaper Society, is now at stage one of the legislative process having been published and introduced into the Scottish Parliament earlier this month.

The News Media Association has long campaigned for defamation reform including in recent years 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.

The latest developments in Scotland will add to pressure for reform in Northern Ireland where the failure to reform the regime has been described as a  “denial of fundamental human rights to the people of Northern Ireland.” 

Welcoming the announcement of the Bill as part of the legislative programme back in September, SNS director John Mclellan said: “Recent cases, such as the action against former Scottish Labour Party leader Kezia Dugdale, and several ongoing cases which have not yet gone to trial, have demonstrated the urgent need for Scotland’s defamation laws to be updated and we hope these measures will become law long before the end of this parliament in 2021.

“Lord Pentland is to be congratulated for bringing forward such badly-needed proposals which will finally bring  this area of Scots law into the 21st Century and we are grateful to the Scottish Government for making sure the bill was included in its programme without undue delay.”

In a press release, the Scottish Government said the Bill will, “simplify and modernise defamation law. It will also ensure that a better balance is struck between protecting someone’s reputation and freedom of expression.

“Other proposed changes include recognising a defence of publication on a matter of public interest, and ensuring that action can only be brought if the published statement caused (or would be likely to cause) serious harm to the reputation of the person making a complaint.

“The Bill seeks to prevent defamation actions being brought against ‘secondary publishers’ – those other than the authors, editors or commercial publishers of material containing defamatory statements – with certain exceptions, for example where the harm caused by publication is materially increased because it has been republished to a much larger audience.”