Defamation Bill.Reforms to Libel laws introduced.

Major reforms to Defamation laws were unveiled in the Queens speech. The purpose was to attempt to reduce the number of claims, stop the supposed practice of Libel tourism and protect the scientific community and website operators and adapt to the new Internet age.

  • The bill attempts to reduce the number of spurious claims by ensuring claimants are able to show they have suffered significant harm before making a claim.
  • Introduce a single publication rule so the one year limitation period for claims will run from the date published first and not if reproduced on another website at a later date. At the moment a new limitation period starts every time an article is published giving effectively an unlimited limitation.
  • The Bill replaces justification and honest comment with Truth and Honest opinion.
  • The Reynolds defence gets statutory recognition as Responsible Publication on a matter of public interest.
  • Website operators will receive greater protection with a defence to any claim if they didn’t post the defamatory statement. The defence will be lost however if the poster is anonymous and the website operator fails to deal with the matter once notified of it.
  • The Bill will also extend privilege to peer-reviewed articles in scientific and academic journals.
  • It restricts “libel tourism” so that the courts  do not have jurisdiction to deal with defamation cases brought against people who do not live in the UK or a European Union member state unless “England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring an action”.
  • The presumption that trials will be held with a jury will be abolished.
  • The bill gives the courts the power to order losing defendants to to publish a summary of its judgment if agreed or if not by the court.
  • The absolute privilege for reporting of court proceedings is extended, to cover reports of any international court or tribunal established by the Security Council of the United Nations or by an international agreement, such as the International Criminal Court.
  • Qualified privilege is extended under the Bill to coverage of “proceedings at a press conference held anywhere in the world for the discussion of a matter of public interest”.

It will be interesting to see how much the bill changes during its passage through parliament and whether the phone hacking scandal and Leveson Inquiry will have any effect.

For advice on libel and Defamation call Carruthers law today or fill in one of our enquiry forms.

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