New statutory hurdles for defamation actions appear to have dealt a blow to the practice of foreign celebrities bringing libel actions in London, according to research published today. Only 49 defamation cases were reported in England and Wales in 2016/17, a drop of 16% on the previous year and down from 86 three years ago, legal publisher Thomson Reuters said. 

The fall followed the 2014 implementation of the Defamation Act 2013, which introduced a 'serious harm' test for individual claimants and required companies to show they had suffered or were likely to suffer financial loss. Only two claims were brought by businesses in 2016/17, down from 12 the previous year. 

Meanwhile celebrities made up 6% of cases in 2016/17 compared with 32% a decade ago. 

Another change introduced in the 2013, requiring overseas-based litigants to show that England and Wales is 'clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring an action' is also taking effect, the figures suggest. Celebrities are also more to privacy actions to block stories in advance of publication. 


Katie Hopkins

Meanwhile high profile cases may have warned social media users of the dangers. Widely reported cases involving Twitter include Lord McAlpine’s libel claim against House of Commons Speakers’ wife Sally Bercow and the award of damages to food blogger Jack Monroe over a tweet by columnist Katie Hopkins.

Defamation cases are now mainly the preserve of private individuals, who made up 80% of claimants and 39% defendants in 2016/17. 

Nicola Cain, legal director at City firm RPC and co-author of ‘Defamation: Law, Procedure & Practice’, commented: 'The evidence clearly shows the Defamation Act has played a big part in reducing the number of defamation cases reaching the High Court.'

The Thomson Reuters figures are drawn from the Westlaw and Lawtel databases.