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National moves on last-minute libel law

Dr Wayne Mapp National Justice Spokesperson

19 November 2001

National moves on last-minute libel law

National will next week seek leave of the Parliament to change a tough new defamation clause which was slipped into the Electoral Amendment Bill (No.2) at the last minute.

"This sub-clause endangers free speech. It was surreptitiously inserted into a Supplementary Order Paper tabled last Wednesday, with no consultation with the Justice and Electoral Select Committee," says National's Justice spokesperson Wayne Mapp.

"The Associate Justice Minister claimed the 39-page SOP contained just technicalities. However, buried within the SOP was this extremely broad libel provision. It should be limited to statements known to be untrue.

"Since the clause carries with it a penalty of three months' jail, there must be criminal intent. If it is a crime, it must be shown that the person actually knew the statement was false. No responsible media organisation would publish material it knows to be false.

"The clause is no doubt a backdoor restoration of criminal defamation, last used by Helen Clark in 1991 over pamphlets distributed in Mt Albert by the chairman of the General Practitioners Society, Dr Roger Ridley-Smith.

"The draconian provision throws into doubt the Government's commitment to freedom of the press," said Dr Mapp.

Ends

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