Committee to Review Libel Law


Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, has directed an eleven-member committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the Libel and Slander Act.
At a meeting with the committee at Jamaica House, Mr. Golding reiterated that the legislation should be updated to better allow the press greater freedom to present information that is important to the public. He said that too often, the law has been used, “as a firewall to protect scoundrels, and there are times when media representatives have been on to something that is important to be brought to the attention of the country, and they are stopped in their tracks. They are intimidated simply by the filing of a libel action- very often an action that is not pursued – so it is just used as a road block to say go no further”.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister said the committee should be mindful of the fact that individuals do have rights and reputations that have to be protected. “Therefore, I am asking you to do what is a really difficult task, which is, how do you ensure that you open that window to the public, to know what is happening, to have the benefit of the information, without at the same time exposing individuals or corporate persons to unjust, unfair and malicious publication,” he said.
Mr. Golding urged the committee to draw from the experiences of other countries, to see how the rights of the individual can be harmonized with the greater public right to information in the modern age, and in particular access to information.
He also asked the committee to examine the issue of whether there should be a higher level of scrutiny for public officials, than there is for the ordinary citizen. “I do feel that when one occupies a position of public trust, especially when that position didn’t seek you, you sought it, you must be prepared to subject yourself to a higher level of scrutiny -which is not to say that people who give public service don’t have rights, or are not entitled to privacy, but I do believe that if you are the holder of public trust, if that public trust is to be strengthened and validated, then you must be prepared to come under that much greater scrutiny,” the Prime Minister stated. Mr. Golding said the choice of persons for the committee ensured that the relevant expertise and experience are brought to bear, and thus the selection of as broad a cross section of persons in media and law, as possible.
The committee, which is chaired by Justice Hugh Small, comprises: Mr. Oliver Clarke, O.J; Mr. Lester Spaulding, C. D., J.P.; Shirley Miller, O.J ; Mr. Desmond Richards; Mr. David Coore, O.J., Q. C; Mr. David Batts; Mr. Jermaine C. Spence; Mr. John Vassell; Mr. Walter H. Scott; Mr. Neville James; Mr. Patrick Bailey Q. C.

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