January 3, 2014

Taking action under the new Defamation Act 2013

Campaigners for the freedom of expression say that the new Defamation Act 2013 restores protection for those offering opinion to the public, altering the balance between free speech and the right to protect reputation.

Under the new Act it is now harder for companies and individuals to sue for libel about opinions expressed online, in scientific papers and academic publications.

One of the key changes is the introduction of a “serious harm” test, necessary to establish a claim in the first place. The new threshold of serious harm will require companies to prove that they have suffered or are likely to suffer serious financial loss. This initial hurdle is intended to give potential claimants clearer guidelines before taking legal action and minimise the number of spurious claims ending up in court.

The Act also imposes a new one year time limit for starting defamation claims relating to statements made online. The clock will start running from the first publication and will not be refreshed by repeat publications in other locations on the web or each time the statement is viewed.

For those at the wrong end of a defamatory comment it’s not all bad news. Website operators are now required to implement a ‘report and remove’ system that people can use if they believe they have been defamed on a website, comment board or online forum ensuring protection for those who have been subject to defamatory statements. The new system aims to identify the defamatory material and get it taken off the web within 48 hours of the initial complaint.

If you or your business is the subject of potentially defamatory comments or opinions expressed publicly it is important to take professional advice as soon as possible.

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