Holyrood votes to reform defamation law to make it ‘fit for the 21st century’

HOLYROOD has unanimously passed reforms of defamation law after MSPs were told current legislation for this was “no longer fit for purpose”.

Community safety minister Ash Denham said the changes being brought in by the Scottish Government would make the law “fit for the 21st century”.

She told how the Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Bill – which was passed by 118 votes to zero – aims to both simplify and modernise the law on defamation, while also ensuring that a “better balance is struck” between the competing rights of freedom of expression and protecting someone’s reputation.

Denham said: “The law of defamation in Scotland is due for reform, the last substantive changes were made more than a generation ago and it is no longer fit for purpose.”

The Bill sets out, for the first time in Scots law, what constitutes a defamatory statement.

And a new threshold test of serious harm means that the “courts should not be asked to settle defamation litigation where there is little or no harm caused to individual reputation”, the minister added.

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The Bill brings together the main defences against defamation – that something is true, an honest opinion or its publication is in the public interest.

But Denham said that one “innovative change” here is when the defence of honest opinion is used, facts need to be shown “underpinning the opinion to be either true, privileged, or reasonably believed to be true”.

She also said that having all the defences set out in one place would help people to “better understand the law”.

The Bill also increases the remedies available to those who have been defamed, with pursuers able to ask the courts to remove the offending items or attach a notice to them correcting it.

Those taking action will also be able to ask for a summary of the judgment to be published.

Denham stated: “Ultimately, for most, the purpose of a defamation court action is to vindicate unfairly damaged reputation and having new types of remedy that can achieve this is a welcome reform.”

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