Increase in number of libel claims

Sweet & Maxwell figures indicate threefold rise in businesses suing for defamation

Legal information provider Sweet & Maxwell has published figures which show that there has been a significant rise in the number of libel cases being brought, particularly by businesses.

The Sweet & Maxwell figures record that there were 78 reported libel cases in the twelve months to May 2009, a 32% increase on the previous year. The quota of claims brought by celebrities was very similar but the legal information provider suggested that the larger number of cases might be attributable to businesses becoming more sensitive to attacks on reputation during an economic crisis. Allegations that a company was going to become insolvent were a good example of a crisis-related sensitivity, Sweet & Maxwell said. Cases brought by businesses jumped from 5 in 2007-8 to 16 in 2008-9.
Legal action relating to the internet also continued to grow in frequency. The emergence of social networking, blogging and other recent technological developments have started to feed through into litigation. Of the reported cases analysed by Sweet & Maxwell, "new media" featured in around 10 percent in 2008-9, up from 5 percent.
The Sweet & Maxwell data provides only a snapshot of litigation in defamation however, as it is based on cases reported on the publisher’s Lawtel and Westlaw UK services. It can only be supposed however, that the data reflects a general trend that will also be found in the issue of larger numbers of claims and pre-issue settlement of complaints by defendants relying on offers of amends or informally negotiated retractions and apologies.