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JILT 1996 (3) - David L Shaw MP

Comments on the Draft Defamation Bill


David L Shaw MP

My main concerns are that whilst I want to see the development of the Internet, I am concerned that it doesn't become a conduit for libel and false stories. The best example is the totally false claims about the sexual lives of two cabinet ministers which were first fabricated at Westminster in about 1990. They ended up on the Internet, three to four years after they were first fabricated, and people started to give credence to totally false and fabricated statements.

Therefore, those of us who want to support the development of the Internet are faced with a dilemma - its expansion requires there to be little regulation which in principle I support BUT a totally regulation free environment could threaten basic and well accepted democratic principles which enable a person who has been wronged to obtain a correction, restraint on repetition and, if necesary, damages.

The problem with the Bill is that it will give exemptions which could still be abused and can do nothing about news postings from anonymous servers in non-UK jurisdictions. In practical terms it is also questionable whether or not UK people can be protected by UK laws when, for example, the libels could be set out on www pages on an American University computer server and the existence of the libelous www pages publicised in the UK by posters to UK usenet newsgroups.

It may well be that an internationally accepted clause or clauses will be the only solution in the longer term. However, with more changes in technology leading to even lower cost and even wider access to the Internet it may be that legislation in this area is doomed to fail.

David L Shaw MP

View comments on the draft bill by: Charles Gray QC

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