Defamation Bill – Commons Committee Report

The House of Commons has published a useful summary of progress on the Defamation Bill, which will return to Parliament next week. Clause 5 of the Bill proposes changes to the current regime for websites hosting allegedly defamatory postings from third parties. When it was last discussed in the House, before the summer, concerns were expressed that the Bill:

  1. should not move to American model “where free expression always trumps other concerns”,
  2. should not inadvertently require websites to disclose identity of whistleblowers, and
  3. should not websites to be easily censored by casual threats of litigation.

The Bill proposes that there should be an approved process that website hosts can follow after receiving a complaint without incurring liability, but leaves details of this process for secondary legislation. In the Committee stage of the Bill a number of amendments were suggested to include details of the process in the Bill itself, but these have so far not been accepted. Although the Government did identify one possible process (that the website host would inform the poster of the complaint and ask if their contact details could be disclosed, but that the complainant would have to seek a court order if this request was refused), it also stated that it would consult with relevant stakeholders before deciding on the actual process to be adopted.

Clause 10 protects someone who is “not the author, editor or commercial publisher” unless it is impractical to take legal action against one or more of those. It was noted in committee that website operators might fall under both Clauses 5 and 10, and that the interaction between these clauses might need further consideration.

The third reading debate in the Commons may indicate whether Parliament feels any changes are needed following this detailed consideration of the Bill.

By Andrew Cormack

I'm Chief Regulatory Advisor at Jisc, responsible for keeping an eye out for places where our ideas, services and products might raise regulatory issues. My aim is to fix either the product or service, or the regulation, before there's a painful bump!

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