The Defamation Act 2013, which applies in England & Wales came into force on 1st January 2014 and has been hailed as “landmark legislation”.
The Act, introduced amongst other positive provisions, the serious harm rule, the public interest defence, the website operators’ defence, the single publication rule and also widened the ambit of reporting provisions.
Despite this, the Act does not extend to Northern Ireland meaning residents and journalists here are not afforded the same protections as the rest of the United Kingdom.
This week, members of the House of Lords debated this issue amid ongoing concerns that free speech is under threat and libel tourism very likely if defamation laws here are not brought into line with those laws in England & Wales.
Commencing the debate, senior government law officer, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, explained that the civil law of defamation is a devolved matter and so the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive.
He said the “United Kingdom government would not normally pass primary legislation relating to areas which were devolved without agreement” . He added “The Northern Ireland Executive must have the scope to set its own priorities for legislation”.
He did however reassure members that work in relation to the existing law of defamation in Northern Ireland recommenced in February 2020 and that this will inform legislative change under the next mandate of the Assembly.
Reform of Northern Ireland’s outdated libel laws is evidently under active consideration. However, it remains to be seen whether the Act, either in part or whole will extend across the Irish Sea.
We will be following this topic closely and posting updates as and when they occur.
Watch this space!
Emma Hunt, Partner / Katie Major, Solicitor
Leading the litigation team at Mills Selig, Emma has significant experience and a well-established reputation in the area of media and defamation.
Katie has extensive experience in litigation, dispute resolution and a particular specialism in media and defamation.