The House of Lords has announced that the Defamation Act will come into force on 1 January next year, as will the new Regulations for website operators providing them with a defence against complaints over defamatory comments posted on their websites.

This defence within the Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013 is set out in section 5 of the Defamation Act 2013. It cannot be relied on by the website operator if the person complaining can show that:

  1. they didn’t know who posted the statement on the website;
  2. they complained in the appropriate way by sending a notice of complaint to the website’s operator (explaining where on the website the comment appears, what it says, and why it is defamatory); and
  3. that operator failed to respond to the complaint in the way that the Regulations set out.

The defence will also only apply if the website operator removes the material complained of within a short time limit, if/when the person who posts the content is unwilling to engage in the process. The Regulations are therefore aimed at striking the right balance between the people posting defamatory material on websites, the internet provider, and the person complaining about the abuse.

If the person who posted the comments co-operates with the process but wants to stand by the material they have posted, the complainants can have a forum to resolve their concerns with them – or take action against them. It is being described as “an attempt to ensure that the complainant and the poster are brought face to face, as it were, as easily as possible”.

A system of cost protection for defamation and privacy actions has also been consulted on, and is intended to be introduced early next year.