Federal Communications Law Journal

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Publication Citation

49 Federal Communications Law Journal 621 (1997)


The Defamation Act 1996 is the first major piece of libel legislation in Britain since the Defamation Act 1952. The British Parliament passed the Act in response to the ease with which libel plaintiffs can establish liability and in response to huge damage awards. In passing the Act, Parliament attempted to shift the balance of defamation law away from protecting the reputational interest of plaintiffs and toward protecting free discussion and open criticism. However, the Act merely fine-tunes current law. The Act reduces the limitations period for defamation suits, introduces procedural reforms to simplify and reduce libel suits and permits Members of Parliament to waive their Parliamentary privilege if necessary to bring their own defamation claims. Yet the Act fails to adequately reform English law to provide greater freedom of speech protection. For example, unlike other jurisdictions, English law does not recognize some form of "public figure" defense. By failing to substantively reduce the ease of defamation suits, Parliament lost the opportunity to provide greater protection of speech.