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The Defamation Bill is designed to reform aspects of the law of defamation. Proposals to reform the defamation laws have a long history. Currently, defamation is governed mostly by the common law. The Government committed to reform the defamation law in its Coalition Agreement in which it agreed to “review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.”

A draft Bill was published in March 2011 and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. The Defamation Bill was presented on 10 May 2012. It extends to England and Wales only. Second Reading is expected to take place on 12 June 2012.

The Bill would make a number of substantive changes to the law of defamation, but is not designed to codify the law into a single statute. Proposed changes (if the Bill were passed) include the fact that claimants would have to show they have suffered serious harm before suing for defamation. Under the law as it currently stands, a claimant does not have to prove the words they are complaining about have caused them actual damage.

The Bill would remove the current presumption in favour of a jury trial and would introduce a defence of "responsible publication on matters of public interest". It would also provide increased protection to operators of websites who host user-generated content, provided that they complied with the necessary procedure to enable the complainant to resolve any dispute directly with the author of the material concerned. It would introduce new statutory defences of truth and honest opinion to replace the common law defences of justification and fair comment. The Bill is also designed to limit what has been described as “libel tourism.” It introduces a single publication rule and extends the scope of absolute and qualified privilege.

The Bill does not address issues relating to parliamentary privilege (and the reporting of Parliament) which the Government has indicated will be dealt with through a separate consultation (which was published on 26 April 2012). Nor does it make any specific provision in respect of corporations bringing defamation proceedings.

The Government has said that the Bill is intended to ensure a "fair balance" between freedom of expression and protection of reputation. All main political parties have indicated that they are in favour of in favour of reforming the libel laws.


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