Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Wednesday, 13 June 2012 10:08 UK

Defamation Bill part one

Changes to defamation laws will "raise the bar" to prevent trivial libel cases reaching the courts and make it easier to identify internet "trolls" who post abuse anonymously on websites, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has said.

Opening debate on the Defamation Bill at second reading on 12 June 2012, Mr Clarke explained that claimants would need to be able to show that their reputations had suffered, or were likely to suffer, "serious" harm before they could sue for defamation under the bill.

A single-publication rule is also included in the legislation, so that the one-year limitation period in which a libel action can be brought would run from the date of the first publication of material, even if the same article is subsequently published on a website on a later date.

The bill, which applies to England and Wales, replaces the common law defences of justification and honest comment with new statutory defences of truth and honest opinion.

The so-called Reynolds defence of responsible journalism published in the public interest also gets statutory recognition.

Statements published in peer-reviewed scientific journals will be exempt from defamation law, unless they can be shown to have been made with malice.

The bill also aims to end "libel tourism" by ensuring legal proceedings only take place in England and Wales if that is the most appropriate jurisdiction.

Mr Clarke said: "The bill introduces sensible reforms to protect freedom of expression by raising the bar for a claim and bolstering the defences available, with specific benefit for scientists and journalists."

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan welcomed the bill and said the reforms to update the "antiquated" defamation laws built on work carried out by the previous Labour government.

He said the proposals would protect scientists advancing or debunking theories as well as shielding genuine newspaper reporting.

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