New year; new Defamation Act

07 January 2014

The Defamation Act 2013 came into force on 1 January 2014, consolidating a complex area of law. This briefing outlines the following key points of the Act in further detail:

It brings a statutory reform of the law of defamation and, most notably, the introduction of a requirement that "serious harm" is caused (or likely to be caused) to a complainant's reputation by the statement in question.
The Act introduces a special defence for the operators of websites where a third party has posted a defamatory statement on their website, but also provides a mechanism for that defence to be defeated if the claimant can show that: it was not possible to identify the person who posted the statement; that they gave the operator a notice of complaint in relation to the statement; and that the operator failed to respond to that notice.
The Act sees the common law defences of Reynolds privilege, justification and fair comment replaced by the statutory (but broadly similar) defences of publication on a matter of public interest, truth and honest opinion.
In an attempt to address "libel tourism" the Act also provides that, for claimants in non EU Member State or Lugano Convention countries, the Courts of England and Wales will not have jurisdiction unless the Court is satisfied that of all of the places in which the statement complained of has been published, England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring an action in respect of the statement.