Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nick Clegg's outspoken opposition to libel laws as deputy prime minister

Yesterday I wrote a post contrasting Nick Clegg's opposition to our current libel laws with this week's partial retreat on reform.

If you were Nick's defence counsel you might argue that since becoming deputy prime minister he has found that these matters are more complicated than he once thought. After all, the article I quoted was written back in January 2010.

But this evening I came across an article that Nick wrote for the Guardian in March 2011 when he had been deputy PM for almost a year.

And if anything, it is more outspoken still:
These are laws that tip the balance in favour of vested interests, that allow journalists and academics to be bullied into silence, to be kept quiet by the fear of ruinous legal battles with big business or wealthy individuals. 
London is the number one destination for libel tourism, where foreign claimants bring cases against foreign defendants to our courts – even when the connection with England is tenuous at best. It is a farce that has prompted Barack Obama to legislate to protect his citizens from rulings in our courts. 
These laws make a mockery of British justice. They kill debate and smother scientific inquiry. They undermine our moral authority as we seek to promote the values of an open society in other parts of the world. 
And it is ordinary people who really suffer: protecting their interests means ensuring corruption can be unearthed and charlatans exposed. Of course, individual citizens must be able to protect their reputations from false and damaging claims, and we cannot allow companies to be the victims of damaging, untrue and malicious statements. 
But from the humble blogger to the consumer watchdog, corporate whistleblower, medical researcher, or roving reporter, public-spirited voices must be heard.
I am genuinely puzzled by Nick's retreat on civil liberies and, in particular, puzzled at how he imagines he appears to the voters who care about such issues. As I argued yesterday, he once went out of his way to attract their support.

Once again, backbench Lib Dem MPs are doing honourable work trying to limit the damage to the law and to the reputation of the party. But we need leadership on these issues, and Nick Clegg appears to have gone missing in action.

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