JIS News

The House of Representatives on Tuesday January 25 approved a report from a joint select committee on the review of Jamaica’s libel laws.

The contents of the report will now go to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for the Bill to be prepared, which will then be signed off on by Cabinet.

“It will come back here, so, we will have a second round at it to look at the specific provisions,” said Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding.

He thanked members for their participation in the debate on the report from the committee, which was chaired by Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne.

Minister of Water and Housing, Hon.Dr. Horace Chang, in his contribution yesterday, said the legislation must guarantee the freedom to publish all information, but must also protect against “destructive self interest that may seek to destroy character, sincere and sensible action for personal gain.”

“Achieving the correct balance is important, not only for justice but even in the process of development and therefore, could justify changes at different times,” he stated.

Dr. Chang argued that freedom of expression is not synonymous with a free press, as, in the modern world, the press is often “very much part of the business elite.”

“The press today is not the young, bright and sometimes attractive professionals gracing the media box. It is as much the grey-suited, often little-known directors and owners that can be found in any boardroom,” he stated.

Prime Minister Golding, in 2007, appointed a committee, chaired by Justice Hugh Small, to review Jamaica's libel and slander laws and recommend changes as may be necessary to ensure transparency and accountability.

The Parliamentary group has been perusing the recommendations of the 12-member committee since 2009.  

Among the recommendations in the Small report that the committee has upheld is a proposal for the abolition of the distinction between slander and libel and for a single civil action of defamatory publication that requires no proof of special damages be established.

Prime Minister Golding, who piloted the debate on the report at the first sitting of the House for the year on January 11, said the 80-year old defamation laws were inhibiting freedom of expression.

"The media is a critical pillar of a free and democratic society and much as I get annoyed… at the sometimes reckless way in which liberty is taken, I can't  think of any alternative with which I would feel comfortable, or under which I would want to live.

“Therefore, we thought it was important to ensure that the laws relating to defamation are aligned with that thinking and are aligned with our hopes and aspirations as a democratic country, particularly at a time when we are on the verge of enshrining in our Constitution a new charter of fundamental rights."