Happy New Defamation Act

What better way to start the New Year than with some shiny new media law legislation? The 2013 Defamation Act came into force this week and follows hot on the heels (not!) of the previous 1952 and 1996 Defamation Acts (so the decades between Acts are shortening).

Discussion around the Bill and then the Act as well as coverage, from the learned to the banal, has been done to death so I will not add to the swelling column inches (a nifty lecture summarising the Act and where it fits in with/takes libel law is available from me) so will highlight a few thoughts. Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson has this week also issued a statement reminding that the Act is in force but also pointing out that in terms of legal procedure, much of CPR already provides for dealing with libel cases.

I think that the one thing both media and lawyers (both claimant and defendant sides) were agreed on is that libel law, specifically in its Defamation guise, was due a bit of an overhaul. The hallowed Reynolds defence had been relied on then turned then twisted over the years into an assessment of what was 'responsible journalism'. So Reynolds gets the boot and is replaced with the public interest defence (Clause 4) - will this change things much? probably not and defendants will still have to demonstrate their publications were balanced and amounted to 'neutral reportage'. The cloak of privilege has also been re-tailored so coverage extends to public domain materials issued by governments or corporations (Clause 7), while academics get a bit more free speech when it comes to their reviews (Clause 6). Operators of Websites get a break (Clause 5) and a clause that provides a defence but also guidelines on its scope and what's expected of ISPs, aggregators etc.The Truth gets restated (Clause 2) which also sees common law justification and section 5 of the 1952 Act replaced with a simpler formulation.

The two headline provisions in the Act are the Serious Harm test (Clause 1) - which will bring some respite to the media and see frivolous or bullying actions closed down for want of any serious harm materialising -and a reworked Single Publication rule (Clause 8) which removes further liability for every single page refresh, review or arguably retweet (though this could be interesting if a retweet were held to be a fresh publication rather than republication - depending on its context).

Defamation Act 2013
Steele: Tort Law - update on Defamation Act 2013
BBC: Defamation Act 2013 aims to improve libel laws

1 comment:

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