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Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what assessment he has made of the merits of establishing a libel tribunal as the preliminary forum for libel cases; (309689)

(2) what assessment he has made of the merits of setting an upper limit for damages in libel cases.

In response to concerns about the possibility that our libel laws are having a chilling effect on freedom of expression, the Government are setting up a working group to examine issues relating to the substantive law on libel. The terms of reference of this 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.”

The group will determine the priorities on which it wishes to focus, which may include the issues to which the hon. Member's questions refer.

The working group will include media and defamation lawyers, academics, and representatives from those campaigning for libel reform and the scientific community. 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 under way. The working group is intended to have an intensive, short-term focus and has been requested to make recommendations by mid-March.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of measures to reduce defamation proceedings costs introduced on 1 October 2009. (309763)

The Government indicated in the response to the consultation ‘Controlling costs in defamation proceedings’, published on 24 September 2009, that we would be monitoring the effect of the pilot and considering what further measures are needed to control costs in this area. The impact assessment further confirmed that the costs budgeting pilot would be reviewed after six months and that the measures relating to ATE insurance would be reviewed in the light of the recommendations arising from Lord Justice Jackson's review of civil litigation costs which I understand will be published on 14 January 2010.