News Proposed changes under the Defamation Bill do not go far enough

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The MoJ has outlined the content of new regulations to be found under Clause 5 of the Defamation Bill. The purpose of which is to provide an additional defence to website operators if faced with a potential defamation claim. Currently, website operators are responsible for material posted on their websites, but this consultation seeks to redress the balance between the online publisher and the website user.

Caroline Kean, Wiggin partner and expert defamation lawyer, comments: “These regulations were supposed to ease some of the burden on digital publishers, but in fact we don’t think they go far enough.

“We welcome the recognition that something has to be done here, but the current proposals would result in an overly-bureaucratic system.

“Instead, we would suggest an alternative solution whereby digital publishers can choose to provide a facility for users to contact each other privately – as is already the case with a number of existing websites – rather than the website operator acting as the ‘middle-man’.

“Not only would this reduce the amount of time taken to resolve a dispute, it would remove the administrative burden which the proposed regulations would put on publishers; ensure complainants are responsible for driving the process; and crucially, make people responsible for what they post.

“The fact is, more often than not, claims that are made are vexatious. Complainants don’t follow up on the claims they have made but the website operator is still required to investigate, therefore leaving them with a disproportionate burden.

“The Government should also not miss the opportunity that this review presents to reconcile the existing defences available to website operators. What we have here is a new defence, but without any clear definition of how it is intended to interact with, and potentially jeopardise, the others.”