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English libel reform raises new Scottish question

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has set out plans for an overhaul of libel laws in England and Wales to give legal protection to doctors, scientists and academics who challenge big business and vested interests.

The draft Defamation Bill, to be published in the spring, allows people to speak out in the public interest and makes it harder for foreigners to bring defamation cases in Britain.

Nevertheless the Bills introduction raises important questions for Scotland which have yet to be answered, namely how we must respond to remain in step.

Campbell Deane, a partner in the law firm Bannatyne Kirkwood France & Co, told The Drum: “Lord Lester proposed the bill at the end of last year but it’s not applicable to Scotland in its current format.”

Deane continued: “The main difference in Scotland is that we can sue up to three years after publication, in England it’s only one year. In Scotland you must also establish actual losses, there’s always an element of damage to reputation but you need to establish loss.

“The big issue down south is that the cost of libel is out of all proportion to the claim itself. A claimant claiming £50k can be hit by fees up to 10 times that figure.

“Publishers will see that the introduction of these laws will benefit them and I expect them to lobby for their introduction. There’s very little reason why this legislation can’t be introduced very quickly.”