proposed overhaul to the UK's stringent libel law could have "a chilling effect on those publishing material online", an influential human rights committee warned today.
The tabled amendments to the law of defamation could force website owners to take down defamatory material on request even if there is a valid legal defence to keep it online. That's according to Parliament's human rights joint-select committee, which criticised the draft legislation.
As the law stands right now, there are a number of defences to publishing a statement that damages a person's reputation. One such defence is simply the provable truth: it is defamatory, for instance, to call someone a crook, but it is a justified statement if, say, a court has found them guilty of fraud.
But Clause 5 of the proposed legislation allows someone to order a website to take down a defamatory statement about them regardless of any valid legal defence. If the website complies and censors itself, it can avoid further litigation. If the website operator chooses to stand by the defamatory material then it must run the gauntlet of the High Court.