Irish authors warn Northern Ireland could become forum for libel bullies
Leading Irish authors including Roddy Doyle, Father Ted writer Graham Linehan and former hostage Brian Keenan, have warned that Belfast could become the new libel capital of the world after legislators refused to implement the Defamation Act that was passed in parliament this year.
In a letter to Northern Ireland's first minister, Peter Robinson, and his deputy, Martin McGuinness, they warn: "Northern Ireland may become a new forum for libel bullies."
They have written as the Stormont executive has made no plans to extend the new Defamation Act to Northern Ireland which means the old laws – which, unlike the new legislation, do not give defendants a public interest defence for the first time – will still prevail.
"As writers, we are particularly concerned about the impact of the unreformed libel laws on the freedom to write: biographers, historians, journalists and even novelists will remain vulnerable to libel actions on trivial and vexatious grounds. The mere threat of a libel action is also enough to discourage publishers from touching controversial subjects," said the letter which is also signed by Belfast historian Paul Bew, and authors Bernard MacLaverty and Colm Tóibín.
The Defamation Act was passed in May, ending a three-year battle by libel reform campaigners including scientist Ben Goldacre and whistleblower Simon Singh, the science journalist who was sued after questioning the efficacy of alternative medicine.
It means bloggers and individuals who comment on big business cannot be sued so easily in England or Wales but can be sued under the old laws in northern Ireland.
This also raises the prospect of English newspapers with Irish editions being sued in northern Ireland under the old laws.
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