Lord Lester has published a libel reform Bill.
This is a significant event in the movement towards libel reform; however, one must be careful not to overstate its importance.
It is undoubtedly significant because this is the first moment various proposals of the libel reform campaign have been translated into the precise legal drafting of a Bill.
(A note on jargon: a Bill is the name for a piece of primary legislation as it passes through parliament; once passed it becomes an Act; also note Bills have clauses, whilst Acts have sections.)
By securing a second reading debate on in the House of Lords on 9 July 2010, Lord Lester has ensured that libel reform will be the subject of a proper parliamentary debate and a formal government response.
And because the Bill covers a number of aspects of libel law (other than costs), the debate and the government response are both potentially wide-ranging.
This can only be good news for libel reform.
There is a serious but.
The debate on 9 July 2010 could well be the end of the story, at least for another fifteen to eighteen months.
The Coalition government has not committed itself to any parliamentary time for libel reform in the current legislative session, a session which could last until November 2011; similarly the Ministry of Justice has not committed any departmental resources to putting a Bill through parliament.
Lord Lester's Bill is a private member's Bill; so unless the government provides time and resources to supporting its progress through parliament, then the Bill is likely to just be a Fail.
However, if the Bill which does go forward from the debate on 9 July 2010 is not actually a good Bill then it may be that such a Fail is not really a problem, and the libel reform campaign should look forward to the 2011-2012 session.
So a great deal rides on what happens on 9 July 2010: what the Bill looks like, and what the government's response will be.
As with the internet-based interest which was shown in the passage of the Digital Economy Bill, and indeed also in the British Chiropractic Association v Simon Singh case, it will be important for those who are seeking libel reform to keep an informed watch on the Bill and the debate.
For the passage of the Bill, the key website to bookmark is here.
(The Bill is available both in HTML and pdf.)
This Blog will also shortly commence a critical series of blogposts looking at key parts of the Bill, and these blogposts will lead up to the debate on 9 July 2010.
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