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Defamation Act in force - but still beware!

THE DEFAMATION Act has come into force, which means new defences in libel law for journalists. Late last year, the minister responsible made the Defamation Act 2013 (Commencement) (England and Wales) Order 2013, and its Scottish equivalent, bringing the Act into effect. The Defamation Act's new defences for journalists are outlined - some of which carry complicated qualifications - are outlined here.

The Defamation Act absolutely does not mean it's now safe to say exactly what you want. Journalists and bloggers should still beware. None of the new defences have yet been tested in a court of law, and much more expensive lawyers than you can afford will be trying to set precedents that bend them to the advantage of the wealthy and the corporates.

While there's a clause in the Act on limiting jury trials for libel, which may in some cases have the effect of limiting costs to merely exorbitant rather than these costs spiralling into the stratospheric, the Act doesn't really address the costs of defending a libel action, which remain very high indeed.

And anything published before1January is covered by the old law.

It's still a very good idea to take out insurance against the costs of libel action, such as the "Writer" policy on offer to NUJ members.

And the Freelance notes the continuing proliferation of indemnity clauses that demand the author sign a "warranty" that effectively means they shoulder all the legal risks resulting from the publication of their work – including errors the publishers themselves introduce by their own inept editing or sub-editing.

One recent warranty a publisher demanded of a freelance insisted they warrant that their work is not covered by the Official Secrets Act. How would the freelance in even know?

Last modified: 03 Feb 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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