Scientists and academics are to be given extra protection from bullying corporations that use Britain’s libel laws to suppress legitimate criticism and debate, the Government has indicated.
Ministers are to look at amending the Defamation Bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, after strident criticism that their plans do not go far enough. Scientists have warned that under current proposals there nothing to stop companies and the rich and powerful “silencing criticism” even if it is in the public interest. They point to a string of recent cases where experts have been threatened with hugely expensive legal actions for raising legitimate concerns about medical products and allegedly unscrupulous practices by companies.
The Government had said it would change the law to introduce a new simple “public interest” defence as part of its Defamation Bill. But when the Bill was published critics pointed out that far from protecting scientists and academics the new bill made defending an action on ground of public interest so complicated that it would have a “chilling effect” on public debate.