The Ministry of Justice has become pretty unpopular with a significant number of solicitors in recent months, but for a small group of specialists an announcement from the MoJ at the end of August is generally to be welcomed. The event in question was the publication by the MoJ of the draft Defamation (Operation of Websites) Regulations 2013.
This is an important development, not only for lawyers who advise web publishers, but also for everyone who may be consulted by clients who feel their reputations have been traduced by the authors of what is generally known as user-generated content (UGC).
One of the main complaints about the Defamation Bill when it was passing through parliament was that clause 5 (which deals with the liability of web operators for third-party libels) cross-referred to regulations which had not been published. Parliamentarians were being asked to approve legislation even though they did not know its precise terms.
The bill duly became the Defamation Act 2013, and still no one knew what rights, remedies and protections would be given both to the subjects of defamatory UGC and to the proprietors of websites on which the comments appeared.
Now, lawyers for potential claimants and potential defendants have a much clearer idea of where they stand, and what needs to be done when defamatory UGC is published.
Inevitably, there is bound to be criticism of the bureaucratic procedures envisaged by the draft regulations, especially from those representing claimants, but at least we now have the certainty that was previously missing – and for that reason alone, the draft regulations are to be welcomed.
Tony Jaffa, head of editorial, regulatory and contentious media, Foot Anstey