Last March the Northern Ireland Assembly passed the Defamation Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. The Act, which became law on 6 June 2022 following Royal Assent, significantly updated the law in Northern Ireland, in particular in relation to the operation of the various defences to a claim in libel or slander. This was followed up in October with a new Pre-Action Protocol in Defamation Actions. (Defamation Media and Communication Claims Pre-Action Protocol.pdf (judiciaryni.uk))
Given there has been little update to the law here for some time, 2022 turned out to be a landmark year for reform.
As we approach the anniversary of the passage of the bill through the Assembly, it is useful to note the changes the Act and protocol bring to the law in Northern Ireland. These changes bring us significantly more into line with the law as it stands in England and Wales following the Defamation Act there in 2013 as well as the pre-action protocol in England & Wales. However, key differences remain and potential plaintiffs and defendants should be aware of how the law here differs.
The main provisions of the Northern Ireland Act were the:
- Codification of the defences of truth, honest opinion, public interest and publication in scientific journals.
- The removal of the presumption of the right to trial by Jury.
- The amendment of the law relating to privilege; and
- The requirement for the Department to launch a review of Defamation Law to report within 2 years.
Whilst the Act largely copied the England and Wales Act in relation to these changes, certain key sections from that Act were not copied in Northern Ireland, as these were removed from the initial draft as the bill progressed through the Assembly. These were:
- The requirement to show significant harm in order to bring a claim;
- The website operators’ defence; and
- The single publication rule.
The Pre-Action Protocols are now significantly in line with only minor differences relating to procedure.
We are of course still in the early days for all the changes but potential plaintiffs, defendants and practitioners must be aware of the changes and it will be interesting to see the outcome of the review due in June 2024 and how the case law develops, especially given the key differences which remain here.
Editorial by Mark Thompson, Senior Associate, Media & Defamation @ Mills Selig #YourLegalTeam
If you have any queries regarding the information provided above, please feel free to get in touch with the Media & Defamation team @ Mills Selig
Mark Thompson is a Senior Associate at Mills Selig and works within the Litigation team.
Mark specialises in media, defamation, privacy and intellectual property in addition to his commercial litigation work.
Mark provides regular advice to the firm’s international and local media and social media clients in the defence of libel and privacy claims as well as providing advice to corporate entities and high-profile individuals in reputation management.
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