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Trinidad and Tobago’s House of Representatives passes bill that would partially decriminalize defamation

The Red House, seat of Parliament in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo: Random 00021 at English Wikipedia.

Trinidad and Tobago’s House of Representatives passed on Jan. 24 a bill that partially decriminalizes defamation. The bill will now proceed to the Senate for consideration.

The new bill is an amendment to the Libel and Defamation Act and repeals Section 9 of the Act. The amendment would protect anyone who unknowingly publishes defamatory statements from being prosecuted under criminal law. Section 8 would remain intact, which means that malicious libel known to be false would remain a criminal offense that’s punished with imprisonment. 

The opposition voted against the bill at all stages. Opposition member Colm Imbert criticized the bill as overly benefitting the media, while disregarding the interests of defamed members of the public.

In an editorial piece, the Trinidad Express disagreed with his view, argued that individuals who feel libeled can seek redress through civil courts, and demanded complete decriminalization of libel.

International Press Institute’s (IPI) executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie believed that the new bill will increase safeguards not only for press freedom in Trinidad, but also for the freedom of all Trinidadians to publicly express their views and opinions.” 

However, McKenzie also stated that IPI is “disappointed that this bill does not follow Trinidad's neighbours in providing for the full decriminalisation of libel.” 

In 2012, IPI launched a campaign advocating for Caribbean countries to repeal their criminal libel laws. In the context of this campaign, the institute also visited Trinidad and Tobago, where it discussed the issue with the government and the civil society. 

Last year, Jamaica became the first country in the Caribbean to pass a law that fully decriminalized defamation. 


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