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Archbishop Speaks Out On Defamation Bill

The Archbishop of York speaking in the House of Lords

Wednesday 6th February 2013

The Archbishop of York spoke yesterday during the Defamation Bill debate in the House of Lords about the importance of Arbitration. His contribution follows:

The Archbishop of York: My Lords, first, I apologise that I was not in Grand Committee when the Bill was going through. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, always speaks with great authority on human rights and the conventions, but I would have thought that this was not the Third Reading of the Bill. If it were, we would be coming to the end of the game. This is Report, so the noble Lord, Lord Lester, might put right the defects in the amendments so that when the Bill comes back at Third Reading it will be amended. So that argument does not hold water.

In the end, it is to do with trust. If trust is absent, what do you do? We all want to trust our newspapers, but what happens when there is no trust? The amendment proposes an:

"Arbitration Service for defamation and related civil claims against members of Independent Regulatory Board".

Because it is to do, first of all, with a question of arbitration, I am attracted to it. I am attracted to it because the preacher from Galilee said that, if you have a dispute with your neighbour, it is better to try to settle it before you go to court, because when you go to court you may find yourself being given such a stiff sentence that you end up losing doubly. Therefore, I am attracted by the whole question of arbitration. The courts, of course, can look at whether the parties were willing or unwilling to engage in arbitration. If a person has been wronged and another person does not think that is the case, arbitration obliges them to have a conversation. It seems to me that we should accept Amendment 1 at this stage. Then the Government can perhaps suggest alterations to it. Certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is always very assiduous in correcting things that are not well put. Perhaps he can suggest alterations to the amendment.

I am not persuaded by the part of the amendment in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady O'Neill and Lady Hollins, which seeks to delete subsections (5) to (7) of the proposed new clause in Amendment 1, although I may be persuaded by other parts of their amendment. Those subsections are very important. They set out what needs to happen. Therefore, I urge your Lordships' House to pause and consider whether we really think that only the rich ought to have recourse to a remedy in defamation cases. The ordinary citizen could find redress very easily and quickly through arbitration. The press ought to welcome arbitration because it would cost far less than an elaborate court case, which may collapse in the end after a lot of costs have been incurred. When there is no trust, what do you do? You want to be in a position to rectify your situation. For those reasons, I support Amendment 1 and resist deleting proposed new subsections (5) to (7) from it.

Speaking on a separate amendment he said:

The Archbishop of York: My Lords, I, too, want to add a sentence of support to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said.

I am patron of many charities and it would not be right if we did not strike the right balance. If a charity felt it was defamed because it was a body corporate, the restriction that has been put in here requiring the permission of the court is necessary. We are living in a very litigious society so if you are going to go to court to sue anybody, the permission of the court should be shown.

In proposed new subsection (3) there is the question of finance and the possibility of striking out if you cannot actually show that you have suffered loss. Because of that balance-that common sense that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, was talking about-I am very attracted to this, and I hope that the Government will accept both limbs of the amendment, because you really could not do one without the other. It strikes a balance. For such a very long time, individuals could sue but reputational damage, as well as financial loss, is often incurred by a number of charities and it would be good to be able to do the same thing in terms of bodies corporate.

To read these contributions in context in Hansard click here and here.

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