Victory for libel reform: Defamation Act 2013

From today, England and Wales will have a new libel law, with the Defamation Act 2013 coming into effect, after receiving Royal Assent last April*. This is the culmination of five years of work for the Libel Reform Campaign and many others.

As highlighted in posts passim, the previous libel law had been criticised as being antiquated, costly and unfair, resulting in a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the stifling of legitimate debate (particularly for journalists and academics). Some of the new measures include:

  • protection for scientists and academics publishing in peer reviewed journals.
  • protection for those who are publishing material which they reasonably believe is in the public interest.
  • a requirement for companies and individuals to show serious harm to establish a claim.
  • a single publication rule to prevent repeated claims against a person about the same material.
  • a tighter test before claims involving those with little connection to England and Wales can be brought before our courts, addressing libel tourism.
  • a new process enabling website operators to help people complaining about online statements to resolve this direct with the poster of the material.

The Defamation Act will hopefully bring in a new era of libel law that protects freedom of expression and encourages open and honest public debate, while protecting those who feel their reputations have been unjustly attacked; nevertheless, echoing English PEN: we’ve now got a defamation bill but it’s how we act that matters. Read the press release from the Libel Reform Campaign (as well as their initial summary assessment of the Bill), a statement from Lord McNally and this useful guide for journalists.

* to get an idea of how a Bill changes as it passes through both Houses of Parliament, take a look at the tracked changes

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