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Helen Southworth: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he intends to consult on perceived abuses of defamation procedures. [33183]

Mr. Wills: My noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has today written to the Law Commission asking them to undertake a scoping study to consider whether there are any problems arising from the use of intimidatory tactics, such as gagging writs and gagging letters. A copy of the terms of reference for this work has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The Law Commission will produce a short paper by the end of March 2002. It will also undertake some preliminary work with a view to a possible further scoping study on defamation and other issues arising from publication on the internet.

Concerns over gagging writs were originally raised during the passage of the Defamation Act 1996. The Government subsequently announced that they intended to consult publicly on the perceived abuses of defamation procedures. We have since reconsidered the scope of the project, in the light of the rapidly developing case law in the field, to ensure that it deals aptly with all relevant areas of concern, including those raised by advances in electronic communication.