The Scottish Government has launched a review of defamation law amid growing concerns the rich and powerful are threatening free speech.

The move follows a lengthy campaign, backed by this newspaper. and is designed to bring legislation in to line with the digital age.

Journalists for years have warned of a “chilling effect” on investigative reporting because of the costs of dealing with claims of defamation, even if these are unfounded.

Freedom of expression group Scottish PEN, this newspaper and others have argued that Scotland should follow reforms already carried out in libel laws in England and Wales.

The new new review comes after the Scottish Law Commission made 49 recommendations to modernise and simplify legislation.

Ministers have now formally launched a consultation on various issues raised through the Scottish Law Commission’s report, including a three-year time limit of defamation claims, a threshold of “serious harm” and potential action against unjustified legal threats of defamation.

There have been concerns expressed that the threat of legal action has been used to prevent publication of stories.

One of the options in the consultation is that publishers would be allowed to challenge such threats in the courts.

The rise of Twitter, Facebook, TripAdvisor and other social media mean more and more people are effectively publishing their views, but without realising they could fall foul of unreformed defamation laws

Launching the consultation, Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “Defamation law potentially affects everyone and it is crucial that we ensure the law is fit for modern Scotland.

“The enormous growth in the use of social media presents new challenges and means that defamatory communication is becoming increasingly instant and common.

“It is crucial that we strike the right balance between the two values that often pull in opposing directions - freedom of expression and the protection of an individual’s reputation.

“Consultation is an essential part of the process and members of the public have an important part to play in reforming the law on defamation and ensuring it is fit for the future.”

The public consultation will run until April 5.