Dr Wayne Mapp National Justice Spokesperson
19 November 2001
National moves on last-minute libel law
National will next week seek leave of the Parliament to change a tough new defamation clause which was slipped into the
Electoral Amendment Bill (No.2) at the last minute.
"This sub-clause endangers free speech. It was surreptitiously inserted into a Supplementary Order Paper tabled last
Wednesday, with no consultation with the Justice and Electoral Select Committee," says National's Justice spokesperson
"The Associate Justice Minister claimed the 39-page SOP contained just technicalities. However, buried within the SOP
was this extremely broad libel provision. It should be limited to statements known to be untrue.
"Since the clause carries with it a penalty of three months' jail, there must be criminal intent. If it is a crime, it
must be shown that the person actually knew the statement was false. No responsible media organisation would publish
material it knows to be false.
"The clause is no doubt a backdoor restoration of criminal defamation, last used by Helen Clark in 1991 over pamphlets
distributed in Mt Albert by the chairman of the General Practitioners Society, Dr Roger Ridley-Smith.
"The draconian provision throws into doubt the Government's commitment to freedom of the press," said Dr Mapp.