The final Straw

Until recently, Jack Straw seemed relaxed about libel tourism, unconvinced there was "sufficient evidence" that UK laws - which allow foreign claimants to bring cases against foreign defendants, incurring costs 140 times as large as the European average - were "a major problem". But following the Trafigura case and a fierce campaign by English PEN and Index on Censorship, a major review of libel laws is on its way and Straw is "anxious to get ahead" with reform.

Index and PEN - whose guidance the government has promised to consider "very carefully" - are enthusiastic, if cautious. Jo Glanville, Index's editor, feels the review "could be revolutionary, if done properly". Then again, in an election year, it could "all just get buried". Lisa Appignanesi, PEN's president, worries about the review panel. "There are all kinds of lawyers . . . There are elements of self-interest here."

But perhaps lawyers aren't the only self-interested ones. Denis MacShane MP, who helped launch the Commons campaign for libel reform, is less charitable about the review, which follows a Lib Dem commitment to reform and interest from some Tories (as well as media pressure). "I cannot see why the working party is needed. If the government were serious, a simple bill could be introduced in the first week of January. The working party proposal means there is little chance of anything happening this side of an election."

This article first appeared in the 04 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Gaza: one year on