The lord chancellor, Jack Straw, is to order a comprehensive review of Britain's much-criticised libel laws, the Ministry of Justice revealed today.

Straw has previously promised to act against libel tourism, fearing Britain's restrictive libel laws are being exploited by plaintiffs with few real links to the UK.

But the justice ministry said the review, to be conducted by academics, lawyers and newspaper editors, will go much further. The formal terms of reference will be to "consider whether the law of libel, including the law relating to libel tourism, in England and Wales needs reform, and if so to make recommendations as to solutions".

The review will look at whether a specialist libel tribunal should be established to resolve defamation cases out of court. The issue of whether academics and scientists can defend their remarks on the basis of fair comment or in the public interest will also be examined. The wide terms of reference will also allow the working party to look into whether the burden of proof should be shifted from defendant to plaintiff, as is the case in countries such as the US.

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