Friday 11 May 2012

The Queen’s Speech 2012 – What will it mean for the law of Defamation – Reform? Overhaul? Or Same Old Same Old?

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s most gracious speech to both Houses of Parliament took place on 9 May 2012, with focus being placed on getting the country out of the economic mire we find ourselves in. However, if you listened very hard and used your microscope on the transcript, you would have noticed 15 words that could change the defamation playing field substantially.

For those of you who may have missed them, I repeat these 15 words below:

“Legislation will be introduced to protect freedom of speech and reform the law of defamation”

15 little words, which together indicate the beginning of a complete overhaul of English defamation law.

The new Defamation Bill still has some way to go before becoming good law, but if it is introduced, then it is likely that London will lose its mantra of ‘Libel Capital of the World’ and put pay to ‘Libel Tourism’, (which brings Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Services substantial sums in Court fees every year).

It is a foregone conclusion that the libel laws need reform, purely for the fact that at times they appear incompatible with current technology. However, to move away from being Claimant friendly and spin towards protecting apparent absolute freedom of speech is not, I consider, the right way to go.

Granted, freedom of speech is important, as is the protection of one’s reputation but we have the best Judges and the best legal system in the world, to handle this complex area of law. This is why London is the capital of ‘Libel Tourism’.

A huge overhaul of the law is not required; just a little bit of a reform and an update should suffice.

The idea of the single publication rule, one of the proposed changes, is also an absolute scandal in the making, given the scope and size of the internet. If by some curse the single publication rule is included in the new Defamation Bill, I bet my house that we will have a spate of applications to the High Court applying to extend the period of limitation, which will in turn, simply increase the administrative burden on our Judges and Courts, something which I am sure the new Bill is trying to avoid, not increase. However, I will delve into this subject in depth at a later date, as it really deserves its own posting.

Internet Law Solicitor John Spyrou of Bains Cohen LLP

Check out my interview on Internet Trolling - page 95 of FHM’s June 2012 addition.

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