2011-03-20 08:59:42U.K. Science Minister Calls Libel Reforms 'Good News'



Scientific discourse may enjoy greater legal protection in the United Kingdom, if the provisions in a draft Defamation Bill become law. The proposals, unveiled yesterday by U.K. Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, include conferring more protection on statements dealing with matters of "public interest" and requiring that a statement must cause "substantial harm" before it becomes defamatory. David Willetts, the U.K. science minister, called the proposed legislation "good news for science," but some scientific advocates of libel reform have so far reacted cautiously. In a statement, Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science said:

The government has recognized the harmful effects of UK libel laws on science and medicine and proposes introducing a statutory public interest defence. This will need some development. As the consultation recognizes, there is still work to be done to ensure that we end up with a law that enables us all to focus on the question "is it true?" rather than "will they sue?"

The new Defamation Bill comes after several scientists and science writers have been ensnared in libel suits for discussing or writing about controversial matters. Compared with other countries, the United Kingdom is generally considered more permissive to such lawsuits. Willets has called for the scientific community to offer feedback on the proposed legislation and plans to meet with researchers next week to discuss the issue.