Libel cases jumped 60 per cent in first year after Defamation Act

Libel is an unpredictable area. And that's certainly the case with the new Defamation Act 2013.

Many people believed that the act, which came into force on 1 January, 2014, would lead to a drop in the number of libel cases.

After all, it made it harder for claimants to start an action: they now have to prove that a statement caused them "serious harm", a stricter test than before.

But Ministry of Justice figures for 2014 reveal that the number of cases dealt with in London 2014 went up from 142 to 227, a jump of 60 per cent. The figures have left a lot of experts scratching their heads.

Personally, I'm not altogether surprised by the rise, which is the biggest since 2009.

I said in my Defamation Act 2013 eBook, published when the new law came into force: "The new test of 'serious harm' will probably have limited effect. Most people who started libel actions in the past did so because the believed a statement caused them serious harm. They wouldn't have bothered otherwise.

'It is difficult to find a libel case dealt with under the old libel laws that would have failed if the new law had been in force.'

I still take the same view.

I believe the other reasons for the rise are an increasing  number of claims arising from social media and websites, and a greater awareness among the public that they can take action over defamatory allegations online.

It's a no-brainer. The number of publishing platforms grows every day. So does the number of articles, posts and tweets. We're not just dealing with a few hundred newspapers and magazine publishers any more, but tens of thousands of websites and social media feeds.

The more publishers, the more libel actions … even if the threshold for bring an action has been raised to 'serious'.

I'm certain that the number of defamation cases will continue to rise.

Cleland Thom is a consultant and trainer in media law

 

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