In a speech today on the relationship between science and politics to the Royal Society, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg will call for a reform of libel laws.
He will say:
“I am deeply concerned about the stifling effect English libel laws are having on scientific debate.
“The freedom to evaluate critically the work of others is the essence of good quality research.
“Of course people have the right to protect their reputations from damaging and false statements made recklessly, irresponsibly or with malice. But scientists must be allowed to question claims fearlessly, especially those that relate to medical care, environmental damage and public safety, if we are to protect ourselves against dubious research practices, phoney treatments and vested corporate interests.
“English libel law as it stands is obstructing that process and threatens the public good as a result.
“The prospect of a costly, protracted legal battle hangs over journalists, editors and academics seeking to ask basic questions about the evidence for practices they believe may put people at serious risk.
“Our libel law and practice have turned a country once famed for its traditions of freedom and liberty into a legal farce where people and corporations with money can impose silence on others at will.
“I believe in raucous freedom of speech, not gagging orders in our courts. Libel tourism is making a mockery of British justice, with foreign plaintiffs able to bring cases against foreign defendants when the publications in question may have sold just a handful of copies in England.”