The limitation period for bringing a claim for defamation under section 5 of the Defamation Act 1996 is one year from the date on which the cause of action arises.
This period applies for claims for libel, slander and malicious falsehood under the Defamation Act 1996. The courts have a broad discretion to allow a claim to proceed outside this time limit if it considers it to be equitable. In exercising its discretion, the court will take into account the length of, and the reasons for, the delay and the extent to which relevant evidence is likely to be unavailable or less accurate as a result.
A fresh cause of action for defamation arises each time a defamatory statement is published. This means the limitation period under the Defamation Act 1996 is extended each time the original defamatory comments are published again. This rule is particularly relevant to the internet due to the existence of online archives and the ease with which defamatory statements can be stored and published again.
The best approach for proposed claimants is to issue a claim as soon as possible after the alleged defamation, even before the expiry of the one year time limit specified under the Defamation Act 1996. If not, the potential defendant can ask for an explanation of any delay. The claimant’s complaint may also be diluted by the delay.
In addition to complying with the time limit imposed by the Defamation Act 1996, both parties will need to consider the pre-action protocol to the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 which actively encourages early exchange of information to enable parties to explore early settlement. Failure to comply with the pre-action protocol can have costs consequences. It is therefore best to seek legal advice on defamation claims to ensure all such requirements are met.