NewsBrands Ireland welcomes today’s publication of draft legislation to reform Ireland’s Defamation Laws

28 March 2023. NewsBrands Ireland, the representative body for Ireland’s national news publishers, has welcomed today’s publication of draft legislation to reform Ireland’s Defamation Laws.

The publication was announced today by Minister for Justice Simon Harris TD and Minister for State with Responsibility for Law Reform James Brown TD.  The draft legislation is informed by the recommendations contained in the Report of the Review of the Defamation Act 2009, which was published last March by Minister Helen McEntee.

The General Scheme brought to Government today provides for significant reforms to defamation law, including the abolition of juries in High Court defamation actions, provisions to address the issue of ‘libel tourism’, and reforms the defence of ‘fair and reasonable publication’ on a matter of public interest to make it simpler and clearer. In addition, the Scheme provides for the insertion of a new Part into the Act to tackle strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPS).

NewsBrands Ireland regrets the General Scheme of the Bill does not recommend a cap on damages, or a general requirement for someone to show serious harm was caused by a publication of a statement. NewsBrands Ireland has always maintained that, along with the abolition of juries, it is crucial that there should be a cap on damages, and a ‘serious harm’ test:

Speaking about the draft legislation, Ann Marie Lenihan, CEO, NewsBrands Ireland, said:

“Today’s publication of draft legislation to reform Ireland’s Defamation Laws is an important step in the right direction for long overdue reform. NewsBrands Ireland has long campaigned for reform of our defamation laws, which are among the most restrictive in Europe and throughout the English-speaking world.

The current laws are not fit for purpose and serve neither the public nor freedom of the press.  They have a chilling effect on the media’s role as the public’s watchdog and its ability to reveal matters of important public interest. They also facilitate a system where many complainants choose the legal route and the prospect of a monetary award, rather than alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as the services of the Office of Press Ombudsman and Press Council of Ireland. 

Colm O’Reilly, chairman NewsBrands Ireland said “the reform of the defamation laws gives government a real opportunity here to show their support for press freedom and provide a more balanced and fairer process for the resolution of defamation claims. Reform must lead to stronger and clearer legal protection for the responsible public interest journalism produced by our member news publishers, and we urge speedy implementation of the full Bill.”

For more information on NewsBrands Ireland’s campaign for reform of our Defamation Law, see here