The Government is pushing ahead with plans to reform the country's libel laws with the tabling of new legislation in Parliament.
A bill titled 'An Act to Repeal the Defamation Act and the Libel and Slander Act' was tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday and should be debated shortly.
The bill takes into account the findings of the committee which was led by Queen's Counsel Hugh Small and incorporates the decisions of the joint select committee of Parliament which examined the Small Report.
The new legislation is expected to provide "effective and fair remedies for persons whose reputations are harmed by the publication of defamatory matter" as well as "to promote speedy and non-litigious methods of resolving disputes relating to the publication of defamatory matter and (to) ensure that the law of defamation does not place unreasonable limits on freedom of expression and, in particular, on the publication and discussion of issues of public interest and importance".
Slander and libel distinction
Among the major changes the bill proposes is the abolition of the distinction between slander and libel.
Currently, slander refers to defamation through the spoken word while libel is for written, broadcast or published words.
The bill includes a new requirement that a statement must have caused substantial harm for it to be libellous and includes the defence of truth and fair comment which are now observed under the common law.
The bill also proposes that the law relating to criminal libel should be abolished, while persons who claim they have been defamed will no longer have to prove special damage.
The legislation moves the determination of the amount to be paid to a person who has been defamed from the hands of juries to the judge in the case.
In addition, the bill removes the possibility that persons who have been defamed could seek exemplary or punitive damages.
The bill also reduces the period that an action of defamation can be brought to two years from the date the material was first published instead of the present seven years.
However, a person who believes they might have been defamed could apply to the court for an extension of the period that they could take legal action.