Saracens Blog

Should the Defamation Act be abolished?

The Defamation Act 1996 has been subject to much criticism over the last few years. Many critics have pointed out to the incontrovertible need for a system that places a higher value on the freedom of speech and freedom of expression of others. As a result, a new defamation bill, forwarded by Lord Lester in May 2010 has been released outlining plans to ‘tidy up’ the current law.

Currently the Defamation Act 1996 has been criticised because it does not provide a sufficient defence to allow citizens to be well informed on matters of public interest. The Defamation Act 1996 and other related defamation laws has been criticised on a variety of issues. Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC has commented on how ‘…English law gives very strong protection to the civil right to reputation at the expense of the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression’.  In many ways, this describes the Defamation Act 1996 as a piece of legislation which stifles an individual’s right to freedom of speech. In this sense, it may be argued that the Defamation Act 1996 has become archaic and outdated.

Another criticism of the Defamation Act 1996 is that there is no common law defence of “fair reporting on a matter of public interest”. Lord Lester believes that such a defence should be included within the scope of the act as it provides protection to press and individuals alike to publish on matters of public interest without fear of breaching defamation laws. Therefore, it certainly seems that the Defamation Act 1996 is in need of some form of reform.

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One Response to “Should the Defamation Act be abolished?”
  1. 06.28.2012

    Randy,The issue is MALICE, not intent. MALICE is a lelgaly defined term which means that at the time the statement is made, the speaker knows or recklessly disregards the falsity of the statement made. In the Noonan case, the court went further, stating that if the true statement was made for the purpose of harming the plaintiff’s reputation, truth will not stand as a defense. I AGREE that this is a troubling precedent.The law of defamation is a very complex web of precedents, and your examples about products, etc., raise a number of other questions too. In most such cases, the statements are protected, if the judge/jury believes the viewer’s perception would be that the statements are mere puffery or sales talk . BUT, if false statements are made, could give rise to a claim of false advertising, too.Still, I don’t think the slippery slope argument vis-a-vis hate-crime legislation is really valid here. Criminal acts ALWAYS depend on proof of an element of intent.

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