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Lib Dems call for libel law reform to protect medical research

By Yvette Martyn

Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg has called for a reform of English libel laws to prevent the obstruction of scientific debate.

In a wide-ranging speech on the relationship between science and politics, Mr Clegg warned that current libel laws were 'stifling' scientific discussion and hampering the delivery of 'evidence-based policy-making.'

Mr Clegg said: 'Scientists must be allowed to question claims fearlessly, especially those that relate to medical care, environmental damage and public safety, if we are to protect ourselves against dubious research practices, phoney treatments and vested corporate interests.'

'I am deeply concerned about the stifling effect English libel laws are having on scientific debate.'

He also called for an end to gagging orders, and highlighted a study showing that libel cases are on average 140 times more expensive in England than in mainland Europe.

'I believe in raucous freedom of speech, not gagging orders in our courts,' he said. 'Libel tourism is making a mockery of British justice, with foreign plaintiffs able to bring cases against foreign defendants when the publications in question may have sold just a handful of copies in England.'

A series of high profile medical libel cases recently have prompted calls for reform of libel laws. The author Simon Singh was sued by the British Chiropractic Association after challenging their views in a column in the Guardian, while British cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst is currently being sued by the an American healthcare company after questioning the effectiveness of a heart implant device.

Nick Clegg speaking at the Royal Society today