May 18, 2017

Free speech groups welcome repeal of punitive law

​English PEN and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcome the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

Section 40(3) of the Act introduced worrying provisions for the awarding of punitive costs against publications that chose not to join a recognised regulator. Under this law, defendants would have been liable to pay the costs of both parties, even if vindicated.

In a January 2017 submission to a DCMS consultation, English PEN and RSF called for a repeal of the law: ‘Section 40 would introduce an unprecedented chilling effect for publishers and journalists in the UK, leading to self-censorship and a reduction in public interest reporting. The essential role of the press in our democracy would therefore be undermined, as well as the scope for any writer to investigate matters of concern and national interest for the public.’ The submission argued that the measure was incompatible with free speech protections under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said:

We are delighted that the government has listened to our concerns and dropped this coercive legislation. The lack of clarity regarding the definition of publisher in the Crime and Courts Act would have exposed not only the media but civil society as a whole to vexatious claims, undermining freedom of expression across the UK.

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director for Reporters Without Borders, said:

We welcome the Conservative Party's commitment not to proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry, and to repeal Section 40 - measures that we campaigned for. However, a number of other threats to press freedom remain, such as the Law Commission's proposal for an alarming new Espionage Act, which should also be scrapped. We urge all UK political parties to ensure their policies respect and protect press freedom, as it is too often trampled in the name of security.

English PEN and RSF are extremely grateful to Emma Woollcott, Leyla Linton and Humam Al-Jibouri, of the Reputation Protection team at Mishcon de Reya, for their expert advice and support in preparing the submission to the DCMS consultation.


Notes to Editors