Scottish Law Commission proposes defamation reforms

Report and Draft Bill on defamation law in Scotland published

On 14 December 2017 the Scottish Law Commission published its report recommending reform of defamation law in Scotland.

The report proposes changes including the introduction of a serious harm requirement, a reduction in the limitation period from 3 years to 1 year, and the introduction of a public interest defence. It also recommends that it should no longer be possible to sue where a defamatory statement is made only to the person who is the subject of it and no-one else, as in that case the statement cannot realistically cause any damage to reputation.

The Report contains a total of 49 recommendations, and a draft bill which would put those recommendations into law.

Lord Pentland, Chairman of the Scottish Law Commission said:

“Defamation law potentially affects everyone and getting it right is crucial for the type of society we want to live in. With the phenomenal growth in use of the internet and social media it is possible for everyone to communicate far more easily and more widely than was the case in the past. But faster and easier ways of communicating have thrown up new challenges for the law. The absence of editorial controls can sometimes allow reputations to be unfairly tarnished in the eyes of a mass audience.

Our modern law of defamation, therefore, has to strike the right balance between two values that sometimes pull in different directions – the principles of freedom of expression and protection of reputation. Both are fundamental human rights and are of vital importance in a modern democracy. The law of defamation has a central part to play in safeguarding both these rights. It is important that fearless journalism can thrive so that the rich and powerful are held to account; at the same time the law must allow those whose reputations are unfairly tarnished to restore their reputations swiftly and at reasonable cost, if necessary through the courts.”

The report can be found here.

5RB‘s Desmond Browne QC, Justin Rushbrooke QC, Christina Michalos and Adam Speker provided assistance to the Scottish Law Commission during the project.