Sun | Aug 7, 2022

House passes Defamation Act

Published:Wednesday | November 6, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

AFTER years of lobbying by the media and civil society interests to overhaul Jamaica's libel and slander laws, the House of Representatives yesterday passed the Defamation Act, which will, among other things, promote speedy and non-litigious methods of resolving disputes concerning the publication of defamatory matter.

Attorney General Patrick Atkinson, in piloting the bill through the House, argued that it had been taking too long to bring important pieces of legislation such as the defamation bill to the Parliament.

He pointed out that it had taken six years since the Hugh Small-chaired committee presented then Prime Minister Bruce Golding with a report with proposals to review the country's century-old libel and defamation laws.

"A gestation period of so many years places much too much time and labour for its delivery," Atkinson said.

The act has been passed by the Senate and is to be sent to the governor general to be signed into law.

new terms under law

The new defamation law will, among other things, make provisions for the publisher of defamatory matter to make amends by way of correction and apology and may include compensation.

An apology may be used in mitigation of damages, and where made by or on behalf of a person in connection with any defamatory matter alleged to have been published, does not constitute an implied or express admission of fault of liability.

Another feature of the act is the expansion of the term 'electronic communication' to include text, sound, and images.

Atkinson said the act also ensures that the law of defamation does not place unreasonable limits on freedom of expression as well as the publication and discussion of topics of public importance.

out of jury's hands

The act makes provision for the removal of the award of damages from the hands of the jury.

"If the jury finds that the defendant has published defamatory matter about the claimant and that no defence has been established, the judge and not the jury is to determine the amount of damages, if any, that should be awarded to the claimant and all unresolved issues of fact and law relating to the determination of that amount," the act states.

It further says that in determining the amount of damages to be awarded in any defamatory proceedings, the court shall ensure that there is an appropriate and rational relationship between the harm sustained by the claimant and the amount of damages awarded.

The act outlines several mitigating factors in determining damages, among them being whether the claimant has suffered, or is likely to suffer, harm as a result of the publication.