UK set to repeal `anachronistic` criminal libel laws

The House of Lords on Monday kick-started a process that is expected to remove "anachronistic" British laws that have criminalised libel for more than 700 years.

London: The House of Lords on Monday kick-started a process that is expected to remove "anachronistic" British laws that have criminalised libel for more than 700 years.
The changes scheduled to come up for discussion as part of the controversial coroners and justice bill today, repeal laws dating back to 1275 and allow "extremely serious" libel and sedition to be prosecuted in criminal courts.

These laws have long been regarded as an impediment to freedom of speech and an anomaly in the UK, which has encouraged countries with repressive regimes not to conduct prosecutions for libel.

"The abolition of sedition is long overdue," said Geoffrey Robertson QC, who successfully defended controversial Indian-origin author Salman Rushdie in the last sedition case held in Britain, over his book, The Satanic Verses.

"Its abolition here ensures that those (repressive) governments can no longer use the excuse that they are merely following British law," he said.

Agnes Callamard, executive director of campaign group Article 19 said: "This will send a very strong and clear signal globally that democracies do not have criminal defamation laws."

The support for repeal comes as the government faces pressure to extend changes to the law on blasphemous libel - which will also be debated today. Freedom of speech campaigners in the UK are claiming victory with the House of Lords expected to change the "anachronistic" laws.

Bureau Report