Simon Singh
The author said Northern Ireland's defamation laws should be reformedRichard Cooper/Creative Commons

Bestselling author Simon Singh has warned that Belfast could become the libel capital of the world if Northern Ireland does not reform its defamation laws.

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

But his successor, Simon Hamilton, asked the Northern Ireland Law Commission (NILC) in September 2013 to examine whether the Westminster Act should be introduced in the province.

The NILC's consultation paper was delayed because of budget cuts to its sponsoring organisation, the Department of Justice.

However, IBTimes UK revealed that the document will be published on the afternoon of 27 November.

"If I blog or Tweet something or if I publish a book, and somebody doesn't like what I write about them and wants to shut me up, then my blogs, my Tweets and my books are read in Northern Ireland so that's where I may be sued for libel," Singh told IBTimes UK.

"So Northern Irish courts could be used to gag, not just the rest of Britain, but the rest of the world.

"Sooner or later this will change. The question is whether Northern Irish politicians act sooner, and avoid problems occurring, or whether they act later – having been prompted by embarrassing libel cases."

The science writer also said that it was "bizarre" that the Northern Irish government has taken so long to adopt the Westminster act.

"Having put that much thought and hard work into this – to bring us to a stage where we have a fairer defamation law in England and Wales – it just seems bizarre and an insult to free speech that Northern Ireland at first rejected these sensible reforms and now is acting slowly to get the law right," Singh said.

"You would have thought – following the universal condemnation of English defamation law – that Northern Ireland would realise that now is the time to act and to pick up at least some, if not all, of the developments in libel law that happened in the Defamation Act 2013."

Singh faced a libel writ from the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) because of comments he made in the Guardian in 2008 about the effectiveness of the health-care method.

The organisation eventually dropped the case against Singh in April 2010.

The Fermat's Last Theorem author, who is speaking at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival in Belfast on 12 December about his experience, told IBTimes UK that the emotional pressures were "huge" throughout the case.

"I think I can deal with pressure but I would wake up feeling nauseous at the thought of what was going to happen that day and what legal letter I was going to arrive next or what was going to happen in court the following week," Singh said.

"It's emotionally draining and it goes on for years. Also, the financial pressures are immense."

The high profile case led campaigners, including Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, to call on the government to reform the country's libel laws.

The end result of this action was the Defamation Act 2013, which received Royal Assent in April 2013.

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.