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Online platforms face growing risk of defamation claims, says expert

Out-Law News | 16 Jun 2015 | 5:03 pm | 1 min. read

The rise in the number of defamation claims before the High Court and Court of Appeal in London last year could reflect the growing risk online platforms face from such claims, an expert has said.

New statistics published by the UK government show that more defamation claims were filed before the two courts last year than at any time since 2009. A total of 227 cases of alleged libel or slander were raised in 2014, up from 142 cases in 2013. In 2009 there were 298 defamation cases heard by either the High Court or Court of Appeal.

Media law expert Ian Birdsey of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said it is not clear why this is the case. He said the new Defamation Act was supposed to reduce the number of defamation claims as it introduced a new serious harm threshold and a new procedure for website operators to encourage those allegedly defamed to target the person who posted the statement. The increase could reflect the fact that more communications are online and the increasing use of social media platforms, he said.  

"With the new Defamation Act coming into force last year it may be that the rise in cases is in part down to an increase in satellite litigation, with courts asked to explore the meaning of provisions laid out in the legislation, or determine whether costs protections apply." Birdsey said. "It could also depend on how the number of claims is being calculated."

"It is not uncommon in my experience for a claimant to issue proceedings against a number of online platforms," he said. "The increase may just reflect the fact that more people are suing website operators, which was the harm that the new Defamation Act was supposed to deal with. This could be due to the convoluted nature of Section 5 of the Defamation Act and the operation of The Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013, which set out a process website operators can follow to avoid liability. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues over the next 12 months". 

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