Antigua inches closer to decrimalisation of libel and slander
Legislators are inching closer toward the decriminalisation of libel and slander as key legislation heads towards a final debate. Current libel and slander laws include prison sentences of up to two years.
“Yes, the government is serious about moving towards repealing the existing legislation,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Melford Nicholas said. “It will pass the lower house by the next sitting of parliament.”
He added that the Defamation Bill, which was recently presented to the Lower House, will be debated and passed before the current parliamentary session ends in December.
The minister and member of parliament for St. John’s City East was the featured speaker at the opening at Rogers Radio on Sunday.
“The bill seeks to decriminalise libel and to clear up the existing ambiguities in the common law which often arise in defamation proceedings,” the Antiguan minister said.
“It further seeks to promote the speedy and non-litigious methods of resolving disputes concerning the publication of defamatory matter. It provides for an effective and fair remedy for persons whose reputations are harmed by the publication of defamatory matter. It moves speedily and in a non-litigious way to resolving disputes concerning the publication of defamatory matter and also seeks to ensure that the law relating to the tort of defamation does not place unreasonable limits on freedom of expression and, in particular, the publication and discussion of topics of public interest and importance,” he added.
Nicholas later told the Caribbean Media Corporation that the bill will be re-presented for parliament’s further consideration after the twoweek suspension requested by the opposition. The request was made to allow for public consultations on the proposed legislation. Consultations with various interest groups will be facilitated by a bi-partisan parliamentary committee headed by Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin.
Despite the delay, the information minister remains optimistic that the legislation will successfully pass through both houses of parliament. His confidence is buoyed by the fact that his party, the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ALP) commands a sizeable majority with 14 of the 17 seats in parliament.
The pending changes to the country’s defamation laws come after years of lobbying by media interest groups, in particular the Trinidad-based Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) and the International Press Institute (IPI).
ACM President, Clive Bacchus was encouraged by the development and told CMC he looks forward to the changes that his organisation believes are long overdue.
“The Association of Caribbean Media welcomes the government of Antigua and Barbuda’s stated intention to move swiftly to repeal criminal defamation laws in the Lower House by the next sitting of parliament. With civil remedies already in place to protect the rights of individuals, the ACM believes the removal of the threat of jail time for free speech will strengthen the human rights traditions in the country,” Bacchus said.