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Working group to examine changes to libel laws

Justice secretary Jack Straw has today established a working group to look into reforming the law to curb so-called ‘libel tourism.’

The group, which includes editors, media lawyers and campaigners, has been asked to come up with recommendations on possible changes to the law within the next six weeks.

In a written statement to the Commons, Mr Straw said: “In response to concerns about the possibility that our libel laws are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression, the government has set up a working group to examine issues relating to the substantive law on libel.”

The terms of reference of the group are “to consider whether the law of libel, including the law relating to libel tourism, in England and Wales needs reform, and if so to make recommendations as to solutions.”

Mr Straw said the scope of the group’s considerations will extend to all aspects of substantive libel law in England and Wales, but will exclude issues relating to costs in defamation proceedings, where work is already underway.

He said the working group was intended to have an intensive, short term focus and has been requested to make recommendations by mid-March.

Members of the group include Robin Esser, executive editor of the Daily Mail, Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship, and John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times.

Among those providing legal input will be Tony Jaffa, head of the media team at solicitors Foot Anstey, and Marcus Partington, chair of the Media Lawyers Association and legal director, Mirror Group Newspapers.