Saracens Blog

Why do we have juries in Defamation Act trials

Defamation is the causing of damage to a person’s reputation or standing either verbally or by a written statement.  The Defamation Act 1996 was introduced to protect the reputation and good standing of an individual.

The Defamation Act 1996 itself does not state that a defamation case must be heard by a jury.  Under the English legal system most civil cases are usually heard by a judge alone, but defamation cases will be tried by a jury as well.  Ajury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact that a judge will then apply to the case in question.

The defendant in such a defamation case usually seeks reliance on one of the defences that are contained in the Defamation Act 1996.   The most relied upon defences under the Defamation Act 1996 are:-

1 Innocent publication – this was created by Section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996 to show that reasonable care was taken by the defendant before making the statement which they believed to be true at the time of making it;

2 Offer of amends – under Section 2 of the Defamation Act 1996 a defendant can offer to pay compensation if a defamatory statement was made.  It is then up to the claimant to prove that the statement was not true;

3 Limitation of time – Under Section 5 of the Defamation Act 1996, the limitation period for defamation actions is one year and the claimant must bring a claim within this time.

If the jury finds that the statement in question was defamatory and there is no defence for the defendant under the Defamation Act 1996 they will then decide how much damages should be paid to the claimant.  However, juries have often been criticised for having awarded damages which are far too excessive, thus raising the question as to whether these cases should be tried by a jury at all.

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