Yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph yesterday ran a strong leader on the fact that the Defamation Act, recently passed into law after a long campaign by Index and our partners and supporters in the Libel Reform Campaign, will not extend to Northern Ireland.
The paper comments:
The absence of any proper explanation as to why Northern Ireland has turned its back on the reforms is baffling. We would urge politicians to throw their weight behind a Private Members’ Bill put forward by [Ulster Unionist Party] leader Mike Nesbitt to have the Westminster reforms introduced here. The reforms do not stop people who have a genuine grievance and want to clear their reputation, but they raise the threshold for taking actions. They also create a stronger public interest defence in defamation cases. Surely, it is in the public interest to reform our outdated libel legislation.
Couldn’t agree more.
Meanwhile, Belfast lawyer Paul Tweed has already been hinting that the Titanic town could become the new “town called sue”, tweeting “Looks like libel litigants will now have to cross the Irish Sea to Belfast or Dublin in order to get access to justice.” A 1 May interview with Tweed in the Belfast Telegraph summed Tweed’s position up, beginning with: “Mention libel tourism and the first Northern Ireland lawyer most people think of is Paul Tweed.”
The same article notes that Tweed is currently campaigning for no-win-no-fee libel claims to be allowed in Belfast, noting “”The fact is that unless you have money you cannot bring a defamation action in Belfast. As things stand, I prefer to act in Dublin, not Belfast.”
Tweed’s firm Johnson’s would appeal to have stolen a march on London libel lawyers by already operating in Dublin, Belfast and London. Will other firms follow suit? Will we see Carter-Ruck taking the ferry to Larne? Schillings and Shilelaghs? The ruling parties in Northern Ireland should back Nesbitt’s attempt to bring libel reform to Northern Ireland before Belfast becomes the capital of censorship.
Padraig Reidy is senior writer for Index on Censorship. @mePadraigReidy