Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Saudi business man almost certainly exists? The Rachel Ehrenfeld case was heard in this country when there was no connection other than the 23 copies of her book that were sold, yet it resulted in the passage of the Libel Terrorism Protection Act in New York. It is a mark of shame against this country that New York state thought it necessary to pass an Act specifically aimed against this country.
Mr Clarke: I made my remark about the case being hypothetical to avoid being drawn into arguments about that case, which is rather familiar to people who know this subject. There are arguments about how far the plaintiff had connections with this country and a reputation here, but as it happens I was producing the example of a Saudi and an American purely hypothetically and I do not think I should get drawn into the merits of a past case. My hon. Friend, who is an expert in this field, rapidly understood why those particular nationalities had leapt to my mind when I gave the example.
Alongside these adjustments in the law to help support freedom of expression, I want to ensure that effective remedies are available for those defamed. Often what most concerns claimants is not financial compensation, but meaningful public clarification that a story was wrong. We have therefore included provisions in clause 12 extending existing powers to enable the court to order publication of a summary of its judgment. Parties will be encouraged to reach agreement, where possible, on the contents of the summary and issues such as where, when and how it is to be published. However, in the absence of agreement, the court will be empowered to settle the wording of the summary and give directions on those other matters.
In addition to protecting freedom of expression and reputation, the Bill seeks to modernise the law. Our biggest difficulty has been in relation to the web, the internet and so on. Currently, website operators are in principle liable as publishers for everything that appears on their site, even though the content is often determined by their users, but most operators are not in a position to know whether the material posted by their users is defamatory or not, and very often, faced with a complaint, they will immediately remove material. The Government want a libel regime for the internet that makes it possible for people to protect their reputations effectively, but which ensures that information online cannot be easily censored by casual threats of litigation against website operators.