You are here

Straw promises single publication rule for defamation claims

25 March 2010

Justice secretary Jack Straw has promised to introduce a single publication rule for defamation proceedings should Labour be re-elected at the general election.

The MoJ’s statutory instrument reducing the maximum cap on libel success fees from 100 to only ten per cent of damages is due to be debated in the House of Lords tonight.

Straw said the single publication rule, which could form part of a Libel Reform Bill, would ensure that claimants could not take action against every version or download of a story by the same publisher.

He said claimants’ interests would be protected by giving the courts the discretion to extend the one-year limitation period for libel claims where necessary.

Straw said the new government would also consider creating a statutory defence to protect articles that were published in the public interest.

The justice secretary said the rules on serving defamation writs outside the jurisdiction could be tightened in an attempt to restrict “libel tourism”.

Jonathan Coad, partner at Swan Turton, said that there was a “real issue” about newspaper archives, where the current multiple publication rule meant that allowing an old story to be accessed online amounted to a republication.

He said that rather than introducing a single publication rule and “robbing people of their rights”, damages for claims against archives could be abolished or capped.

Coad said there was no need for a new statutory defence to protect articles published on matters of public interest and he was strongly opposed to the existing Reynolds defence in such situations.

He said that for all the talk of “libel tourism”, it was right that people with a reputation in this country should be able to come here to defend it.

“The amount of writs issued here are three or four a year,” he said. “Does it say something bad about our country that people come here? No.

“Academics do not have to write in a way which is defamatory. It is normally possible to publish your research without libelling people. Those who choose to take the journalistic route and throw mud must take the consequences.”

Bob Heslett, president of the Law Society, said the cut in success fees for libel actions could become a “charter for libellers”.

“They will reduce access to justice and the ability of claimants with legitimate claims to pursue redress,” he said.

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Procedures Costs Road traffic