The UK Defamation Act 2013 amends the law of defamation. The proposals impact upon media publishers. Following agreement by both Houses on the text of the Bill it received Royal Assent on 25 April.
The Defamation Act 2013 (text) is primarily concerned with the English civil law of libel and slander (defamation) - the torts which protect a person’s reputation. The common law offences of criminal libel, seditious libel, blasphemous libel, and obscene libel – relics from the Court of Star Chamber – were abolished by the last Parliament.
In summary, the Defamation Act 2013 shifts the balance, between free speech and the right to reputation, in favour of free speech. In some areas this shift is likely to be significant (e.g. the hurdle for companies wishing to sue for libel), in other areas there may be little change in practice (e.g. the truth defence).
The Defamation Act 2013 has implications for website operators who are not the author, editor or publisher of a statement complained of. These implications are discussed in detail in this article (members).
Objectives of the Defamation Act
The Defamation Act 2013
- strike a fair balance between private reputation and public information as protected by the common law and constitutional right to freedom of expression;
- modernise the defences to defamation proceedings of privilege, fair comment, justification, and innocent dissemination, in accordance with the overriding requirements of the public interest;
- require claimants to demonstrate that they have suffered or are likely to suffer real harm as a result of the defamatory publication of which they complain
- require corporate claimants to prove financial loss (or the likelihood of such loss) as a condition of establishing liability;
- encourage the speedy resolution of disputes;
- make the normal mode of trial, trial by judge alone rather than by judge and jury;
- enable the Speaker of either House of Parliament to waive Parliamentary privilege as regards evidence concerning proceedings in Parliament; and
- modernise statutory privilege.
The Defamation Act 2013 does not deal with
- the regulation of costs in defamation proceedings, for which statutory powers already exist;
- the award of damages, as to which the principles now established by the courts give sufficient guidance to ensure reasonable legal certainty and proportionality; and
- questions about misuse of private information, breach of confidence, or data protection, which are beyond its scope.
Defamation Act 2013 (text)