Reform of defamation law gathers pace

Reform of defamation law gathers pace

A review of Ireland’s defamation laws and options for reform are to be laid before Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

The Department of Justice aims for fresh legislation to be ready for governmental approval before the end of the year.

Officials, however, told the Irish Examiner that review of the Defamation Act 2009 “continues to be a legislative priority”.

The Programme for Government, it said, contained a commitment to “review and reform” defamation laws to ensure a “balanced approach to the right of freedom of expression, the protection of good name and reputation, and the right of access to justice”.

The department has already done “very extensive work” on the review but this has been delayed by legislation emanating from the pandemic.

The statement said: “It is intended that the report of the review, with options for change, will be presented to the Minister by the end of October with a view to bringing proposals for legislative change to Government for approval by the end of December.”

It added that the media had sought changes reflective of those in English defamation law.

“They argue that Irish defamation law remains too costly and unpredictable, exercising a real chilling effect on media freedom of expression, and threatening the economic viability of smaller independent newspapers.”

It said: “Particular demands include abolishing the use of juries in High Court defamation cases, and limiting the awards of damages.

“In addition, reforms are needed to address the new issue of online defamation, particularly via social media. This is a complex area of law and several other jurisdictions are confronting similar challenges.”

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