Defamation law reform backed by MSPs

MSPs on the Holyrood’s Justice Committee have supported the general principles of the Defamation Bill.

Members of the committee have endorsed much of the detail proposed in the Scottish government’s bill, which followed significant work from the Scottish Law Commission.

MSPs have asked for further detail and clarification from the government before the amending stages of the bill take place over the coming months.

Specifically, the committee called for:

  • A section of the bill to be redrafted to make clearer whether private or charitable organisations delivering public services may sue for defamation if that part of their work is criticised;
  • the bill to be amended explicitly to ensure that courts retain the power to develop the law of defamation through case law;
  • the Scottish government to look more widely at issues of access to civil justice, albeit noting that this bill is not the vehicle to enact solutions to this problem;
  • the bill to be amended to reinforce the right of individuals to bring actions more than one year after a statement is made, particularly in cases when it takes time for them to become fully aware of it or its impact.

Speaking as the report was published, committee convener Adam Tomkins MSP said: “The Justice Committee has a long-standing interest in defamation law. It has previously supported calls to update it for the internet era and to bring the law together into one piece of legislation.

“This bill broadly meets those aims, and we support its general principles.

“However, in order to ensure that, taken as a whole, the bill strikes the right balance between protecting freedom of expression and protecting reputation, we are asking the government to reconsider some sections, and to provide MSPs with further information.

“The next parliamentary stages could see amendments to the bill, and it is crucial MSPs are satisfied we have robustly tested all the arguments before the bill is passed into law.”