T&T aims to weaken criminal libel law
(Trinidad Guardian) Government is reviewing the criminal libel law with a view to weakening the law and enhancing freedom of speech and freedom of the media, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has said. “There’s no move to strengthen the criminal libel law—on the contrary, we’re trying to weaken it to abolish criminal libel. This review will enhance and strengthen the media’s ability to publish without fear of being charged for criminal libel,” Ramlogan added.
Ramlogan said the review of the criminal libel law was now being done with research by the Legislative Review Commission (LRC). The International Press Institute (IPI) and other media groups launched a campaign earlier this year to urge regional states to abolish libel laws. At the IPI’s international congress in T&T in June—when the IPI was hosted by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar—the Government committed to review libel laws.
Grenada in July became the first Caribbean state to decriminalise defamation. However, seditious libel remains a criminal offences in Grenada. Ramlogan said during the IPI’s conference in T&T earlier this year, Government made a public statement giving a commitment to review the law on criminal libel.
“So this review that is being done is consistent with the Government’s commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” Ramlogan added. He said the LRC was researching the issue and should be presenting a paper on the matter possibly by early next year.
“So we are only in what will describe as advanced embryonic stage of the process. We have not finalised any bill to be presented to the Parliament at this stage or by year-end,” Ramlogan said. He said Government was also in talks with the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters’ Association (TTPBA) on the issue.
“So far TTPBA has rendered excellent assistance on the matter,” Ramlogan added. Ramlogan further explained: “The intention is to review the law, not with any view to making the criminal libel law stronger, but with a view to whittle away at it or abolish it altogether. It’s an archaic law that many believe has caused tension and disquiet among media practitioners and the commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”
He said there was no other legislation concerning criminal libel other than the existing one. “There certainly is none that would strengthen the law of libel at the expense of, and to the detriment of freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” he added.
The review project is now at the stage of the paper being prepared by the LRC. Ramlogan said once that was completed he would take a note to Cabinet on the issue next year.