Does Scots Law protect us when we speak out on social media?

4 April 2019

Image: Renée Bleau

Rights Groups come together to support public response to Scotland’s Defamation Law reform

Scottish PEN and Open Rights Group Scotland joined forces to host a public consultation on Scotland’s defamation law reform in Edinburgh at the end of last month.

Nik Williams, Project Manager at Scottish PEN, a not-for-profit organisation that champions freedom of speech, said: “Defamation law in Scotland, as it stands, offers too few protections for the people of Scotland to express themselves, free from threats of legal action aimed at silencing criticism and stifling debate.”

Matt Rice, Scotland Director, at Open Rights Group Scotland, a grassroots organisation aimed at preserving and promoting rights in the digital age, said: “Reforms for defamation in Scotland should touch on every aspect of our lives.

“Anybody who uses Twitter, anybody that has any kind of profile in social media and speaks publicly about anything could be construed to be an author.

“Anybody who is running a community group or involved in bringing people together, they could be running their own blog, they could be considered to be an editor.

He added: “Freedom of expression is a cherished right which we often don’t realise we are using. It is a thing you only grab on to when you are challenged.”

Stephen Blythe, a Community Guardian at WordPress.com, said, “Scots Law is badly in need of reform, as the internet has democratised publishing, and every individual has a blog or can make a Facebook post or whatever.

He added: “It’s much more difficult for average people to make sense of what defamation laws are, and what they could be liable for.”

Video: Renée Bleau

Rosalind McInnes, Legal Director at the BBC, said: “It is very important to keep free expression going.”

She added: “Defamation law reform would mean you would have a better space for public debate, public discourse, passing on information on matters which are hugely important.”

Rob Edwards of The Ferret said: “This is a very live and real issue for us, when you talk about the chilling effect of people and institutions with money being able to stop things from being published.”

“Money can silence discussion issues which are clearly in the public interest.”

Defamation in Scots Law was last reformed in 1996.  The Scottish Government announced its consultation on Defamation in Scotland in January.  

The ministerial foreword by Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham, said: “We want our law of defamation to be fit for 21st century Scotland, with a clear and accessible framework that balances freedom of expression and protection of reputation”.

Is reform to Defamation Law in Scotland needed in the social media age? Have your say here. The deadline for responding is 5pm on Friday 5 April 2019.

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