The Defamation Act 2013 (the Act) – which came into force on 1st January 2013 – aims to give better protection to people publicly expressing their opinions.

The government has said that the Act would reverse the “chilling effect” current libel laws have had on freedom of expression and legitimate debate.

Journalists, scientists and academics have faced unfair legal threats for fairly criticising a company, person or product in the past, the Ministry of Justice said.

The Act contains a series of new measures, the most noticeable of which is the introduction of a new “serious harm threshold”, designed to help people understand when claims should be brought and discourage the wasting of court time. Businesses have the additional burden of showing that they have suffered “serious financial loss,” in order to meet the “serious harm threshold”.

Other key measures include:

  • A single publication rule to prevent repeated claims against a publisher about the same material. Until now, every publication of defamatory material has given rise to a separate cause of action. This has been of particular concern in relation to online material, as each “hit” on a webpage creates a new publication, potentially giving rise to a separate claim, should it contain defamatory material. The single publication rule aims to prevent, amongst other things, indefinite liability for online publications. Under the rule, the claimant will only be able to bring a claim within one year from the date of the first publication, provided the subsequent publication is in “substantially the same” form and not “materially different” to the manner of the first publication;
  • Introducing a new process which should help a person who feels an online statement is defamatory to resolve the dispute directly with the person who has posted the statement.  This offers better protection for the operators of websites hosting user-generated content, provided they follow the new process;
  • A clamp-down on “libel tourism” by tightening the test for claims involving those with little connection to England and Wales being brought before our courts.

Mike Harris, of the The Libel Reform Campaign, who have been campaigning for the introduction of new legislation since 2009, called the introduction of the Act “good news for free speech”.

Justice Minister, Shailesh Vara echoed these thoughts, saying “The introduction of these new measures will make it harder for wealthy people or companies to bully or silence those who may have fairly critcised them or their products.”

“As a result of these new laws, anyone expressing views and engaging in public debate can do so in the knowledge that the law offers them stronger protection against unjust and unfair threats of legal action.”

“These laws coming into force represent the end of a long and hard-fought battle to ensure a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and people’s ability to protect their reputation.”

Here at Farleys we have a dedicated team of solicitors who will be able to advise you on defending or making a defamation claim. Do not hesitate to contact a member of our team today for further advice.