We in the West must not assume that our rights to say what we like are as enshrined as we believe. Take Scotland. Today we publish a letter from our leading writers warning of a threat to our freedom of speech.

They fear our defamation laws, in the internet era, are having a chilling effect on free speech. We share these concerns and today we launch our "Freedom of Speech" campaign in support.

Most of us think we have the right to criticise and scrutinise the rich and powerful, without the rich and powerful using the law to silence us but this comes with a big "if".


England and Wales, under the last Coalition Government, reformed libel. Those wishing to sue have to show "substantial harm" had been caused to their reputation. The Scottish Government did not see a pressing need for reform.

That decision is now, admirably, under review. Authorities are waking up to the fact that reform in England has made Scotland a back door to gagging people elsewhere in these islands.

The internet and, in particular, social media mean that defamatory statements published in England, for example, could almost certainly be deemed to have been published in Scotland.

Someone who believes they have been defamed online in, for example, the electronic version of a newspaper story can choose where to sue.

Some journalists admit to thinking twice before exposing wrongdoing, fearing an expensive defamation action even if they were in the right. Those journalists just have to be read in Scotland.

As writers' organisation Scottish Pen stresses, this is not just a problem for the media.

Scientists who criticise corporate interests or quack alternative medicine practitioners worry Scottish courts could be used to gag them; again, that could apply even if they were in England or Wales. Consumer champions who review products or services are at risk; so too are consumers. The time has never been better to expand free speech and protect our rights.