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November 16, 2015

Research finds 27 per cent drop in reported libel cases since Defamation Act 2014

By William Turvill

The number of reported defamation cases in the UK has fallen by 27 per cent over the last year, according to Thomson Reuters.

Research found that in the year to 30 June there were 63 reported cases, down from 86 the year before. This represents the lowest number since 2008/09.

Thomson Reuters also found a 45 per cent drop in the number of cases brought by businesses, from 31 to 17.

The research suggested the Defamation Act, which came into force in January 2014, "is likely to be driving the overall decline". The act requires claimants to show actual or probable "serious harm" as a result of defamation and businesses must provide evidence of financial loss. It also aims to address "libel tourism".

Harry Kinmonth, a senior associate in the media team at City law firm RPC and a contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law service, said: "The ‘serious harm’ threshold is making claimants, and particularly companies, think hard about whether they will really be able to demonstrate the necessary harm to their reputations. Fewer trivial defamation cases are now making it to court as a result, and claimants are looking to bring alternative causes of action."

The research found a rise in the number of cases relating to social media, from eight to 11.

Kinmouth said: "The fact that the number of cases relating to social media continues to rise is not necessarily surprising. Someone is far more likely to find themselves the subject of online postings than of stories in the more traditional media, and there is the perception that such postings risk being shared widely and at speed.

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“As a result, claimants view the potential for damage to be high.  It remains the case that the majority of these claims are being brought against the individuals posting the material rather than the platforms hosting it.”

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