Draft Defamation Bill unveiled

Consultation open until 10 June 2011

This afternoon Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke unveiled a draft bill to reform the law of defamation in England and Wales.

Mr Clarke said in a statement ‘the right to speak freely and debate issues without fear of censure is a vital cornerstone of a democratic society. In recent years though, the increased threat of costly libel actions has begun to have a chilling effect on scientific and academic debate, and investigative journalism.

The Government’s draft Defamation Bill will ensure that anyone who makes a statement of fact or expresses an honest opinion can do so with confidence.

However it is never acceptable to harm someone’s reputation without just cause, so the Bill will ensure defamation law continues to balance the needs of both sides and encourage a just outcome in libel cases.’

The Government expressed some of the aims of the draft Bill to be

  • A new ‘public interest’ defence which can be used by defendants in defamation cases.
  • A requirement for claimants to demonstrate substantial harm before they can sue.
  • Reducing so-called “libel tourism” by making it tougher to bring overseas claims which have little connection to the UK in the English courts.
  • A single publication rule, meaning repeat claims for libel cannot be made every time a publication is accessed on the internet.

A period of consultation on the Government’s proposals will now run until 10 June 2011.

Besides the measures included in the Bill, the Government is also opening for consulation an array of other issues to do with the law of defamation in England and Wales, details of which are included in the Ministry of Justice’s press release here.

The text of the draft bill is to be found here.