Wednesday, January 8, 2014

England and Wales Reform Libel Laws

As reported in the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law:  The Defamation Act 2013, approved by the British Parliament on April 25, 2013, just recently went into effect. The Act incorporates several key reforms into the British libel system which historically has favored plaintiffs.

The 2013 Act maintains the traditional premise of British libel law that the defendant bears the burden of proof, but section 1 of the 2013 Act requires plaintiffs to prove that a statement caused “serious harm” to their reputation for the statement to be considered defamatory. For-profit corporations must now prove “serious financial loss” to meet the serious harm standard. The Act also strengthens the defenses of truth and opinion. Section 2 of the Act creates a defense “for the defendant to show that the imputation conveyed by the statement complained of is substantially true.” Section 3 of the Act protects statements of opinion, provided that “an honest person could have held the opinion on the basis of … any fact which existed at the time the statement complained of was published.” Opinions are further protected as “privileged statements” if they appear in a publication of public interest, in a peer-reviewed scientific or academic journal, or if the defendant reasonably believed that the statement was in the public interest.

The Silha Bulletin has a detailed discussion of the new reforms here.