New Plans for Defamation Law and Communications Data (21 May 2012)

The Queen’s speech contains bills, aspirations and general themes of government.  Two bills are of particular interest; the now published Defamation Bill and the Draft Communications Bill.  The Defamation Bill is designed to offer more protection to freedom of speech and to curb the trend of libel tourism.  In order to sue for defamation, ‘serious harm’ will be required and the presumption in favour of a jury trial will also be removed under the plans.  Websites hosting user-generated content are likely to welcome the proposals.  The Draft Communications Bill seeks to ‘maintain the ability’ of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the police, ‘to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public’.  Information such as email addresses and phone numbers as well as websites visited are included under the bill but content of emails and text messages will not be available without a warrant.  Planned safeguards include a 12 month limit on retention of information, measures to prevent unauthorised access, strengthening independent oversight and boosting the role of tribunals to consider complaints.  Civil liberties groups describe the changes as a ‘snooper’s charter’ and former shadow home secretary, David Davis, claimed the bill is ‘something which will not be effective against terrorism’.  The article states that despite these concerns, the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, wants the proposals to go ahead with ‘strong and convincing safeguards and limitations to accompany the bill’.  

Posted on 21/05/2012