The Scottish Law Commission has issued a lengthy consultation paper on the reform of defamation law in Scotland, but I’ve only just seen it and the deadline for responses is set for tomorrow. This is not my expertise (it’s forty years since I studied torts as part of English law, and I never used it) and I’m not proposing to make a submission, but there are issues of concern. I don’t share the view of the Libel Reform Campaign that “Corporate bodies do not have a private life, personal identity or psychological integrity.” Clubs, societies and charities do have identity and integrity and may well depend very heavily on their reputations. The law privileges financial damage over other kinds of reputational damage, and that by comparison with the protection given to commercial traders there is a relative lack of protection for smaller, non-commercial groups, such as a mosque.
The main issue affecting the academic community is the potential suppression of scientific debate or criticism, most notoriously in the action taken against Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association. There is an exemption made in the 2013 Defamation Act, but it only allows for material in peer-reviewed academic journals or conference proceedings. (For those who don’t know it, academic books are peer-reviewed too – 13 of my books have been peer reviewed anonymously, 2 others were subject to an editorial board.) The restrictions mean that academics have to rely substantially on defences of public interest and fair comment, and they are likely to be forced to fold long before they get that far.