Government unveils plans to reduce 'disproportionate' defamation awards

The plan includes a reform where, if a person is defamed, the correction must be published with equal prominence to the defamatory publication
Government unveils plans to reduce 'disproportionate' defamation awards

Cillian Sherlock, PA

Juries would be abolished in High Court defamation cases under the Government’s proposed reforms of defamation law.

Minister for Justice Simon Harris said one of the reasons for this is to remove “uncertainty”.

“When a jury gives a verdict, the jury doesn’t have to lay out the mechanisms and the rationale behind that, so it actually injects huge uncertainty and a lack of predictability into our laws and our judgments in relation to these things,” he said.

The measure is part of the general scheme of the Defamation (Amendment Bill) to reduce “disproportionate and unpredictable awards”, the minister said.

Hr Harris added he was announcing several measures to address “challenges posed by an increasingly complex media landscape”.


Another measure outlines that when a person is defamed, the correction must be published with equal prominence to the defamatory publication.

“It’s not really proper that you splash the article on the front page and the correction is on page 63 under the horoscopes,” he said.

The Bill includes measures to tackle online defamation and also reforms on reducing legal costs and delays, incentivising alternative dispute resolution and supporting faster apologies and corrections.

It also provides for the insertion of a new part into the act to deal with strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPS).

Mr Harris said: “Democracy cannot truly flourish without robust protection for the right of freedom of expression.

“Of course, this must always be carefully balanced with safeguarding the individual right to good name and reputation, and the right of access to justice.

“I believe this legislation strikes the right balance between those rights.”

It will reform defence for live broadcasting when a contributor unexpectedly makes a defamatory comment during a live broadcast, provided the broadcaster shows it took reasonable measures before and during the broadcast to prevent that happening.

Mr Harris said it would also combat libel tourism by creating “a new test to actually establish appropriate jurisdiction”.

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