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Libel law ‘to be reformed’

By Laura Passi

Reforms to libel legislation will be introduced next year to protect scientific debate and freedom of speech, says a Government minister.

Justice minister Lord Tom McNally made the announcement in a statement to the House of Commons, saying a consultation on the bill will take place over the summer.

A Pulse survey pulished earlier this year found nearly half of GPs thought libel laws were ‘restricting open discussion of the potential risks of drug treatment'.

Lord McNally said: 'Freedom of speech is the foundation of democracy. We need investigative journalism and scientific research to be able to flourish without the fear of unfounded, lengthy, and costly defamation and libel cases being brought against them.'

The move comes after a number of high-profile legal cases prompted a major cmapign to change libel laws. Dr Simon Singh was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for criticising the group in a comment piece and Danish radiologist Dr Henrik Thomsen was reportedly threatened with libel action in the UK for criticising a commonly used drug.

Calls for reform have been championed by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Anthony Lester and will be heralded as a victory for pro reform groups; Index on Censorship, Sense about Science and English PEN.

Lord Lester said the surprise announcement was 'extremely encouraging'.