BARRHEAD author Chris Brookmyre has told how he is increasingly being told to ‘tone down’ his characters due to Scots defamation law.

The Tartan Noir novelist started out writing satire, with his first book – Quite Ugly One Morning – published in 1996.

It focused on NHS reforms carried out by a Conservative government but Mr Brookmyre said that, in recent years, publishers have become more cautious about defamation.

He told MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee that editors have urged him to change his depictions of characters and companies in case people reading the books believe they are based on them.

Mr Brookmyre was giving evidence on the Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill introduced by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf last year to “modernise and simplify” the law.

He is one of around 180 authors who wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to warn that Scots law in this area is “out of date, inadequately protecting free expression and is in urgent need of reform.”

Mr Brookmyre said: “I started off 25 years ago writing more overtly satirical fiction in which there were often quite grotesque parodies of not identifiable public figures, but certainly identifiable behaviours and attitudes. I think I would also, at that point, have felt I was protected by the law of fiction, the fact these were amalgams of individuals.

“There’s a danger someone might identify themselves too closely with a work of fiction.”

He added that he did not want his books to be “bogged down in litigation in any way” or cause a problem for a publisher but said requests to change text to avoid a potential legal challenge have happened more frequently.

“There are times I have thought that was a ridiculous concern because it was often too grotesque or something that was clearly meant as a joke but I met it more and more in recent years,” said Mr Brookmyre.

The author added that the power to create a “particularly unflattering” parody to draw attention to a social wrong is necessary and that no corporation or public body should be treated like an individual in law.

He said: “Much wrong has come of that principle. My instinct, from admittedly a position of legal ignorance, is to be uncomfortable with the idea of a local authority for instance, a public body, having recourse to defamation proceedings as a means of deflecting criticism.”

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