Stormont
A source told IBTimes UK that the paper is expected in up to ten days' time.Reuters

The prospect of reform to libel laws in Northern Ireland is back on track after delays from "severe" budget pressures.

The campaign to change the defamation laws in Northern Ireland hit a road block after it was revealed that an important consultation had been delayed after the Department of Justice (DoJ) "instructed" the Northern Ireland Law Commission (NILC) to halt the publication of its paper.

But a source close to the situation has told IBTimes UK that the NILC will go ahead with the publication of the consultation in up to ten days' time.

"What is going to happen is the publication of the NILC's consultation law paper on the Defamation Act 2013 and whether its provisions should apply in Northern Ireland in whole or in part or not at all," the source said.

The source explained that the consultation will close on 20 February 2015, which will allow around 12 weeks for responses.

But the source was "unsure" about the prospect of a full and final report since the NILC is expected to close on 1 April – around six weeks after the consultation deadline.

The Northern Ireland government said the move was because of "severe" budget pressures facing the DoJ.

"We are delighted that it looks like the DoJ is going to take the consultation forward and give the people of Northern Ireland the chance to comment on the archaic law of libel," Mike Harris, an advisor to the Libel Reform Campaign, told IBTimes UK.

"In a previous consultation, 90% of people in Northern Ireland said they want a new law.

"We hope that after the consultation, Stormont will bring forward proposals to reform the law as was supposed to happen over a year ago.

"It's not acceptable that citizens in Northern Ireland enjoy fewer protections for free speech than those in England and Wales. PEN and Sense About Science will keep the pressure on until this is resolved."

The consultation will come after the former Stormont finance minister, Sammy Wilson, declined to extend the 2013 Defamation Act, which applies to England and Wales, to Northern Ireland.

Wilson told MLAs in July 2013 that fears that a lack of reforms to Northern Ireland's libel laws will result in less freedom for the country's media compared to colleagues in England and Wales was a "load of nonsense".

But Wilson's successor as finance minister, Simon Hamilton, asked the NILC in September 2013 to examine whether the Westminster Act should be introduced in Northern Ireland.

Libel reform in the UK

The 2013 Defamation Act was hailed as a victory for "freedom of speech" campaigners as the legislation gave greater "public interest" coverage and offered more protection to people expressing their opinions.

The law also addressed the issue of "libel tourism", where foreigners would sue under "tough" defamation laws in England and Wales instead of other jurisdictions.

Notably, Russian business man Boris Berezovsky sued US magazine Forbes for libel in London in 2000.