Mike Nesbitt’s bill to reform Northern Ireland’s libel laws is unanimously passed in Stormont vote, to move to next stage

A Stormont proposal to reform Northern Ireland’s libel laws passed to the committee stage yesterday.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 10:44 am
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 10:47 am
Stormont’s deputy speaker Roy Beggs put the matter of Mike Nesbitt's libel reform bill to an oral vote, and there were no objectors

The private member’s bill has been brought by the Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt, to bring defamation laws in the Province into line with reform in England and Wales.

In the debate on the plan yesterday, Mr Nesbitt said that “just about every member agrees that in principle our laws are fit for reform, for upgrading and for modernisation”.

However, Jim Allister QC MLA queried whether or not the problem with the current libel laws was as great as claimed, and said that allegations of so-called “defamation tourism”, where people from outside the jurisdiction choose Northern Ireland as the place to sue, was “a straw man in respect of all of this”.

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Mr Allister said that there had been a decrease in the number of defamation writs issued in Northern Ireland since the 2013 Act was introduced in England and Wales.

The Sinn Fein Finance Minister, Conor Murphy MLA, agreed there was a need for reform but asked “is this the right vehicle for this reform?”

Stormont’s deputy speaker Roy Beggs put the matter to oral vote, and there were no objectors.

Libel reform in England and Wales changed the threshold for bringing a defamation, so that only people whose reputation had suffered “serious harm” could bring a case.

There had been mounting concern at the range of voices that were being intimidated by the previous laws, including scientists who challenged the findings and claims of wealthy pharmaceutical companies, and the ruinous costs of defending cases.

Morning View, page 18

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