Mr Michael Mc Dowell, TD, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, announced that the Government has today approved the publication of a Bill to provide for reform and modernisation of the law relating to defamation.

Announcing the measure, the Minister said "The reform of the current 1961 Defamation Act is long overdue.  The main purpose of the new Bill will be to introduce a modern statutory framework to defamation law by replacement of the current legislation.  Plaintiffs should have a better sense of their rights under the law and, for those interested in obtaining speedy redress when they have been defamed, new forms of remedy will, in future, be available to them.  A clear statement of the law will facilitate responsible publishers and broadcasters in avoiding defamatory statements and will provide guidance as to the limits of the various defences which are open to them."

The Bill contains the following points of significant interest:

 

Provisions relating to an Independent Press Council

The Bill (in section 43 and Schedule 2) provides for the application by a body to the Minister to confer on it recognition as the Press Council subject to the minimum requirements set out in Schedule 2.  Ministerial consent is subject to a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Minister may, having regard to the behaviour of the recognised Press Council amend or revoke an order of recognition.  This is also subject of a resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Schedule 2 provides for the considerations on which the Minister shall be satisfied prior to making an order declaring the applicant organisation to be the Press Council for the purposes of the Act.

Under this approach, the print media will be given the opportunity to put into practice its self-proclaimed determination to bring forward an independent, effective and industry funded press council operating a proper Code of Standards.

 

Main features of the Bill


The main features of the Bill are as follows:

4 July 2006

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS

 

Background Information

Government Decision - On 14 June 2005, the Government approved the drafting of the Defamation Bill.  It also agreed to the establishment of a working group to prepare an appropriate legislative basis for the protection of privacy which would be consistent with freedom of expression.  The Group, chaired by Mr. Niall Murray, S.C., subsequently reported in March of this year and its report is dealt with in a separate press release dealing with the Privacy Bill. 
 
Law Reform Commission - In December, 1991, the Law Reform Commission (LRC) published a final report on "The Civil Law of Defamation" which contained over 50 detailed proposals for reform in this area of the law. Subsequent to the publication of the LRC Report, a draft Defamation Bill was commissioned by the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI) in 1994 and a Private Members Bill was published by the Progressive Democrats in 1995. Both Bills were heavily influenced by the LRC Recommendations. The Report of the Commission on the Newspaper Industry made recommendations for some changes in this area in 1996 which reflected a number of the LRC recommendations.

Programme for Government - Consequent on the commitment contained in the agreed Programme for Government 2002 'that the Government would, in the context of a statutory Press Council and improved privacy laws, move to implement reforms of libel laws designed to bring them into line with those of other states', the Minister established in September 2002, a Legal Advisory Group (LAG) on Defamation, to report on the implications of fulfilling this commitment.

Legal Advisory Group on Defamation - The Report of the LAG was published in June 2003, and the Minister initiated a public consultation process on the Report. In addition, the Minister held a major conference on 1 December 2003 to facilitate an exchange of views from a wide cross-section of interested parties. The Bill now published takes into account the very wide consultation process engaged in by the Minister, including consultations with the Irish Press Industry Steering Committee which is advancing proposals for an independent Press Council, a Press Ombudsman and a Code of Standards.

 

Attachments

Defamation Bill 2006 (PDF – 80KB) 

Defamation Bill 2006 Explanatory and Financial Memorandum (PDF – 28KB)