EU Parliament hears evidence on UK defamation law

5RB's William Bennett gives presentation to Committee on Legal Affairs

5RB’s William Bennett has given a presentation  on English defamation law to a meeting convened by the EU Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs in Brussels.

The committee is attempting to devise a set of rules which can be applied within the EU to determine whose national law is to be used in, among other things, defamation disputes. The Committee is trying to determine whether, when a person is defamed, the law which should apply is the law of the country in which they are domiciled or that of the country in which the editorial decision to publish was taken.

European media organisations believe that the applicable law ought to be that of the jurisdiction in which the editorial decision to publish was taken. It would be impractical for a newspaper to consider what legal risk would occur in other jurisdictions prior to making the decision to publish. This position is supported by the English media, which has campaigned to this effect via the European Publishers Council [Brussels 1 and Rome II Cross-border cases of defamation and privacy – Which court takes the case?  Which law applies?]. If they are to be sued by someone domiciled in the EU but who resides outside the jurisdiction of the court of England and Wales, the English media would rather be sued under English law.

As part of its consideration of these issues, the Committee on Legal Affairs is considering the extent to which the various jurisdictions balance the rights of claimants with those of defendants. The Committee has raised the question of whether it can be fair to oblige a French claimant to sue for libel under English law even if the damage to his reputation actually took place in France.

As part of its consideration of these issues, the Committee invited 5RB‘s William Bennett to survey the current state of English defamation law.  He concluded that, all other things being equal, it probably would not be unfair to a person who was resident outside England and Wales but was resident within the EU to be obliged to sue for defamation under English law, as it strikes a fair balance between the right to reputation and that to freedom of speech.

Download a copy of William’s presentation: