The number of reported defamation cases in the UK is at the lowest level since 2008/9, partly due to the Defamation Act 2013, according to research published today.
A total of 58 cases were brought last year, down 8% from the year before, legal publisher Thomson Reuters said. It noted that the act, which came into force in 2014, made it more difficult for businesses to bring successful claims against newspapers and other publishers. Just 10 defamation court cases were brought by businesses last year, a 41% drop from 17 the year before.
There also was a sharp decline in cases brought by celebrities, with only three reported compared with 12 cases the year before.
The only area where the number of social media cases is increasing is in social media: there were 13 cases last year, up from 11 in 2014/15 and eight in 2013/14.
’One of the aims of the reforms of the Defamation Act was to ensure that only serious claims could be brought and it seems it is having that desired effect,’ said Kim Waite, a senior associate in the media team at City firm RPC and a contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law service.
However, she noted that social media has made it easier for individuals to post defamatory statements online. ’Sometimes users of social media act as though it is outside of the scope of the law and then they are shocked to find that all the laws relating to defamation do apply.’
Thomson Reuters' research suggests that defamation cases involving social media are part of the reason for an increasing proportion of defamation claims being brought against individuals rather than media organisations or businesses.
Private individuals were named as defendants in 25 out of 58 cases last year. This represents 43% of cases, up from 32% the year before and 26% the year before that.