The Government has announced in the Queen’s Speech that it will propose a new Defamation Bill. The Government wants to see a better balance between free speech and protecting reputation. At the moment, the UK’s defamation laws are considered to be amongst the most claimant-friendly in the world and encourage “forum shopping” where people look to bring claims in the UK courts.
The proposed new law would contain the following:
- Claimants having to show they had suffered serious harm, so that trivial claims would be discouraged.
- Having a statutory defence of responsible publication where there is a matter in the public interest and the writer has acted responsibly.
- Having a statutory defence of truth and honest opinion instead of justification and fair comment.
- Encouraging more peer discussion on material in scientific and academic journals by widening the qualified privilege defence.
- Having a single publication rule, so that an action could only be brought against a publisher within one year of the publisher first publishing.
- Making it harder for people to “forum shop”.
- Giving web hosts more protection over user-generated material as long as complainants have an opportunity to address the controversial material.