Defamation Bill published

Wide-ranging reform bill to be introduced in Commons

A Defamation Bill containing a comprehensive range of provisions to reform defamation law in England and Wales is published today.

Following a commitment made in the Government’s Coallition Agreement in 2010, and public consultation and pre-passage scrutiny by a Parliamentary Joint Committee the Defamation Bill was included in the Government’s programme of legislation for the new Parliamentary Session which opened on 9 May 2012. The Bill will be introduced in the House of Commons.

The Bill provides for a wider range of legislative reforms than the 1952 and 1996 predecessor legislation. The majority of the common law defences in defamation are given a statutory footing, a number of statutory reporting privileges under ss. 14 – 15 of the Defamation Act 1996 are extended or amended, a single publication date rule is introduced, as well as jurisdictional provisions to protect publishers outside the EU. Following developments in case law, breaking with centuries of tradition, the presumption in favour of trial by jury is removed. Clause 1 of the Bill introduced a statutory threshold test requiring that defamation claims cause ‘serious harm’ to reputation, following Thornton v Telegraph Media Group [2010] EMLR 25.

The Government has expressed that amongst the objectives for the introduction of the bill are the reduction of costs in defamation litigation, largely by removing the added complexity of trial by jury, the protection of academic and scientific debate and lessening the perceived stigma that England and Wales is a magnet for libel tourism.

The Bill and Explanatory Notes to the Bill may be accessed from Parliament’s website here.

The 5RB report on the Joint Committee’s recommendations is available here.