Ministry of Justice
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Defamation on the internet: Ministry of Justice seeks your views

A debate on aspects of defamation law, and how it works in the internet age, was launched today by the Ministry of Justice.

Part of the law on defamation originates from the 1840s, long before the internet arrived and changed the way that opinions and comment are often communicated.

Today's consultation seeks views on specific issues that could interest anybody who posts or publishes on the internet, particularly those who maintain online archives.

The law on defamation allows someone to make a claim each time a libel is published. However the internet now allows content to be updated, cached, linked, archived and, some might argue, republished every time a web page is requested. So should each publication of defamatory material still justify a separate claim ('multiple publication' rule) or should only one claim be allowed ('single publication' rule) – and how might that work?

Currently, a defamation claim has to be made within a year of publication. But the internet now allows content to be accessed immediately and for many years into the future. So does this time limit need to be changed and how might that work?

Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice, said:

'Existing defamation law needs to be updated so it is fit for the modern age, and it is important we listen to views on the best way to achieve this.

'Freedom to hold and express opinions is a right that is vital to democracy, as is respect for the rights and freedoms of others. How these principles are balanced in the fast-changing internet age is a fascinating debate.'

Notes to editors

  1. Today's consultation is part of a wider reform of defamation law currently underway. Wider reform includes the decriminalisation of seditious libel which is currently before Parliament, and a consultation earlier this year on controlling costs in defamation proceedings, the responses to which are currently being considered by the Ministry of Justice.
  2. It includes a simple summary of current defamation law, an exploration of the issues around the multiple publication rule, some suggestions of possible solutions for respondents to consider and an opportunity for everyone to contribute their views. The deadline for responses is 16 December 2009.
  3. For any more information, please contact Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3536.

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