On 1 January 2014, four important legislative changes concerning the law of defamation will come into force.

  1. The Defamation Act 2013 

This contains new provisions including:

  • a requirement for companies and individuals to show serious harm to establish a claim;
  • protection for those who are publishing material which they reasonably believe is in the public interest;
  • a single publication rule to prevent repeated claims against a person about the same material;
  • provisions to address jurisdiction shopping; and
  • protection for operators of websites hosting user-generated content when they follow a proscribed procedure.
  1. The Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/3028)

These regulations set out the procedure that website-operators must follow in order to benefit from the Section 5 defence in the Defamation Act 2013. Website operators availing themselves of this defence will need to act within 48 hours of receipt of a notice of complaint.

  1. The Civil Procedure (Amendment No.8) Rules 2013 amends CPR 26.11

This amendment gives affect to Section 11 of the Defamation Act 2013 and removes the presumption of a trial by jury in defamation claims. Libel and slander claims will be tried by a Judge alone unless there is a court order for a jury to hear the case. For other civil claims where there is a right to trial by jury, such as malicious prosecution, false imprisonment and fraud claims, it will be necessary to make an application for a jury trial within 28 days of service of the defence.

  1. The 68th Update – Practice Direction Amendments amends Practice Direction 53 – Defamation Claims

This reflects the new statutory defence of "honest opinion". References to “fair comment on a matter of public interest” are replaced with references to "honest opinion".

It will take some time for case law to develop and provide further clarity as to how this legislation will be interpreted by the courts. There will be occasions where judgments appear very familiar, however, in certain situations it will be necessary for courts to deviate from the previously established common law principles.