Antigua inches closer to de­crimal­i­sa­tion of li­bel and slan­der

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

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.

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