Queen’s Speech – Defamation Bill ‘Brings Legislation Into 21st Century’

Expert Comments On Impact Of Upcoming Changes

11.05.2012

The new Defamation Bill featured in the Queen’s Speech and expected to be introduced later this year will bring existing legislation into the 21st Century, according to a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell.

Featured in the traditional annual address at the state opening of Parliament, the draft legislation has been created for England and Wales and would see the introduction of measures including:

  • Efforts to reduce the number of spurious claims by ensuring claimants are able to show they have suffered significant harm before making a claim
  • The introduction of a defence for the media based on ‘responsible publication on matters of public interest’
  • Greater protection for website hosts in relation to user-generated content, as long as they have complied with the necessary procedure
  • The removal of the presumption in favour of jury trial

Commenting on the changes, Rebekah Finch, a solicitor at Irwin Mitchell who specialises in cases related to defamation, said: “The changes are a step towards bringing the law into the 21st Century.

“Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has led to a surge in the number of defamation cases relating to content published online with the medium meaning statements can be spread very quickly.

“Because of these new challenges, the aim of the Bill is to strike a better balance between the right to speak freely without fearing legal action and ensuring that an individual is still able to protect their reputation if they have been defamed.”

Describing the new regulatory framework for secondary publishers such as website hosts, Rebekah added:  “Hosts are being afforded better protection on the condition that they have complied with the necessary procedure to "resolve any dispute" directly with the author of the material concerned.

“In addition, the removal of the presumption in favour of jury trial is considered by some as a positive move as this currently adds significantly to the cost of a case.

“Ultimately, defamation law needs to balance the needs of both sides and the new Bill has been introduced in an attempt to do just that by encouraging a fairer and more just outcome in claims.”