Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal


Stephen Bates


London has long been known as the libel capital of the world. Through substantive law, expansive jurisdiction, and high litigation costs, the British courts strongly favor libel plaintiffs. Aspects of the system have come under increasing criticism from a variety of sources, including academics, nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the European Court of Human Rights, the British Ministry of Justice, and a committee of the House of Commons. In March 2011, the British government proposed far-reaching reforms. Four months later, however, new revelations emerged about phone-hacking by Rupert Murdoch's News of the World. As a consequence, the momentum behind libel reform waned. In fact, many British officials called for greater restrictions on the press. This article provides an overview of British libel law and recent critiques of it, analyzes the government's proposals for reform, and assesses their prospects in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.