Apparently in addition to civil defamation laws (libel and slander), Britain has something called ‘criminal defamation’. This is a Bad Thing:
Proof of truth is a full defence to a civil defamation claim. The reason for this is fairly obvious: one should not be able to protect a reputation one does not deserve. Absurdly, those charged with criminal defamation must not only prove the truth of their statements, but also that publication was for the public benefit.
The law isn’t used much, and doesn’t get much attention. But according to Richard Ingrams, himself once charged with criminal defamation, it is “quite frequently used to prosecute people who wrote defamatory letters to the police, though such cases seldom received any publicity.”
Besides, rarely-used bad laws are in some respects worse than always-used bad laws, in that they give the authorities more powers to attack people they don’t like.
Now Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat MP, is trying to abolish the law, via an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which will be voted on on Monday. Given the minimal coverage (just Ingrams and a letter in The Times), and the fct that it’s being pushed by a single backbencher, I wouldn’t have held much hope for it getting anywhere. Except, Evan Harris was instrumental in getting rid of Blasphemous Libel last year.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of much I can do to support Harris’ amendment, given that the vote is on Monday and I live in the wrong country. Hence, writing about it here, in the vague hope that one of you will know more about me than the law (not a high bar), or have some idea what to do about it.