The Defamation Act is a welcome but imperfect reform

Irish Times clock, image originally hosted on Irish Times websiteIn today’s Irish Times (with added links):

Defamation Act a welcome but imperfect reform for libel cases

The Defamation Act [2009] which came into effect this month, is a significant improvement on the old law, but serious problems remain … [It] modernises the law. It provides statutory support for the Press Council and it makes it easier both to take and to defend libel cases. For these reasons, as the Act came into effect earlier this month, Andrew O’Rorke quite rightly afforded it a very warm welcome … However, it ducks some important reforms and bungles others, while some of its most significant provisions raise constitutional problems.

For example, it fails to account for internet service providers (ISPs) or to rebalance the burden of proof from the defendant to the plaintiff. The centrepiece defence of fair and reasonable publication is unworkably narrow. Those issues, along with the ease with which companies can take defamation actions under the Act, might even prove unconstitutional. …

The is a hugely significant piece of legislation, which has gone a very long way towards restoring fairness and stability to a notorious area of the law. However, in some important respects, the Act raises as many questions as it has answered and its deserved welcome must therefore be a qualified one.

Bonus links: (i) a long-running high-profile defamation case in New Zealand has just settled; (ii) in honour of the recent snow falls, a cartoon about defaming a snowman.

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