At a glance: Lord Lester’s keynote speech outlined the changes to the UK’s Defamation Act 2013, and raised concerns about speech crimes, press regulation, and the Leveson Report, which he characterized as “overkill.” According to Lord Lester, “There is continued uncertainty as to the future of independent press regulation. Finding common ground between the politicians and the press is proving elusive. There is a danger that a punitive regime will be imposed with statutory backing that will chill the freedom of speech of the print media and their readers.”
|Opening Keynote Speech 18 October, 2013 (30 min; 15 min Q&A)|
|Moderator:||Ms. Heather Rogers QC|
|Speaker:||“Law Reform Now: Free Speech, Reputation and Media Intrusion”
Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC (Blackstone Chambers, UK)
Lord Lester began the conference with an Opening Keynote speech, an update of the public lecture he delivered at HKU in November 2012. He was introduced by Ms Heather Rogers QC, who played a vital role in the formulation of Lord Lester’s private member’s bill on reforming libel law back in 2010. In his speech, “Free Speech, Reputation and Media Intrusion: Law Reform Now”, Lord Lester outlined key changes to the law of defamation in the UK under the new Defamation Act 2013, which he regarded as reflecting the balance of the right to good reputation and respect for personal privacy against unwarranted media intrusion, while noting the foreseeable difficulties given the non-applicability of the Act to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Lord Lester observed that the UK Parliament has abolished common law speech crimes such as criminal libel, seditious libel, blasphemous libel and obscene libel. He also noted how the Defamation Bill was nearly taken hostage and “almost stifled at birth” by the post-Leveson deadlock between the press, politicians and lobby groups. Amid the uncertain future of press regulation in the UK, Lord Lester vehemently reiterated the undesirability of punitive statutory regulation, given that the British press is already subject to a host of criminal and civil laws. On the contrary, he envisioned a system of effective independent self-regulation that encourages professional standards and provides effective redress, avoiding unnecessary litigation.