Warning: 'Reynolds defence gives false security'

The Reynolds libel defence may have lured newspapers into a "false sense of security" over the past six years and led them to face more libel claims.

This is one interpretation of a survey which reveals that in 2005, some 56 per cent of all defamation cases involved newspapers, compared with 39 per cent in 2000.

Newspapers are also the only type of defendant to face an increase in the number of cases in 2005: 39 cases, compared with 37 in 2000. Overall, the number of reported defamation cases in 2005 was 70, compared with 96 in 2000.

Korieh Duodu, from David Price Solicitors, said: "The fact that newspapers are now the defendants in the majority of reported defamation cases shows that they won’t be cowed by the threat of libel action, either in what they report in the first place, or in defending their journalistic stance in the courts if a claim is made.

This level of confidence by newspapers may be due, in part, to the influence of the 1999 Reynolds v Times decision, which allows the media to make wider use of the defence that they are publishing in the public interest.

"However, this may have given newspapers a false sense of security,"

added Duodu.

"Reynolds has not proved to be the robust defence the media had hoped, as several recent high-profile examples, such as the claims brought by George Galloway MP and Collins Stewart, have demonstrated."

Magazines faced 10 libel cases in 2000, compared with three in 2005, according to online legal information service, Sweet & Maxwell.

Broadcasters faced 10 cases in 2000 and four in 2005.

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