The laws governing libel and slander actions in England and Wales have received an overhaul thanks to the Defamation Act 2013 which came into effect last week.
The aim of the new act is to provide better protection for individuals, the press, scientists and others who now have more freedom to publish their own views without the threat of being sued for libel.
The Act received Royal Assent on 25th April 2013, and came into force at New Year.
Over recent years, the Government believes that freedom of expression has been undermined due to the ease with which individuals can launch ‘trivial’ claims for libel, resulting in a waste of court time.
Justice Minister Shailesh Vara explained:
“The introduction of these new measures will make it harder for wealthy people or companies to bully or silence those who may have fairly criticised them or their products.”
The Defamation Act 2013 aims to protect freedom of expression, whilst still protecting those whose reputation has been genuinely attacked.
Some of the key measures included within the act, which may well affect small business owners, include:
- Protection for those who publish information which they “reasonably believe” is in the public interest.
- Protection for academics, scientists and others who publish peer reviewed material.
- A new ‘single publication’ rule now exists to prevent repeated claims being made against the same publication.
- If someone feels that they have been defamed online, there will be a new process to encourage an early resolution to be made between the individual and the person who posted the content in question. This section is of particular interest to business owners who host ‘user generated content’. It can be hard to monitor website forums, for example, and the new rules should protect website owners, “provided they follow the new process”.
- New measures have been put in place to clampdown on what is known as ‘libel tourism’, where claims are lodged with the courts, despite having little connection with England and Wales.
- New measures have been implemented to prevent ‘secondary publishers’ (such as booksellers) from being the target for libel claims, when it is practicable and reasonable for the claim to be made against the primary publisher.
Victory for libel reform campaigners
The implementation of the new rules is seen as a victory for grass roots activism, spearheaded by the Libel Reform Campaign, which has been calling for additional protection for bloggers, scientists, academics, authors and other for over five years. Read the views of campaigners, and an initial analysis of the Act here.
For the small print, you can access the full contents of the Defamation Act 2013 here.