Number of defamation claims issued falls by over 50%
Annual data published on 3 June 2021 shows that defamation claims issued in 2020 in the Royal Courts of Justice (where the vast majority of defamation claims are issued) have fallen from 323 in 2019 to just 152 in 2020.
The statistics show a continuing trend of claims being brought against non-media defendants (e.g. bloggers and social media users). Just 21 claims were brought against national newspapers (10 of which were against Associated Newspaper Limited, the publishers of the Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday). When other media outlets are included, this figure increases to 43.
In a thought-provoking piece on the influential Informm blog, former Head of Campaigns at English PEN Robert Sharp suggests that the higher numbers in 2018 and 2019 are anomalies most likely explained by the judgments in the Lachaux cases, culminating in the Supreme Court's decision in Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd & Anor  UKSC 27 (see our blog here). The preceding Court of Appeal decision, handed down on 12 September 2017, was broadly interpreted as being 'claimant-friendly', with the Court holding that it would normally be proper to draw an inference of 'serious reputational harm' (a requirement of the tort since the inception of the Defamation Act 2013) where the meaning of the words complained of was seriously defamatory. Nearly, two years later, the Supreme Court firmly disagreed, ruling that the actual impact of the publication needed to be considered when determining whether the 'serious harm' threshold had been met. This was inevitably seen as a 'defendant-friendly' decision.
As Sharp observes, the 2020 figure is line with the average number of annual defamation claims issued over the past decade.
Practitioners will also be aware of the increasing number of claims being brought under data protection legislation, which now make up the majority of claims brought in the specialist Media & Communications List. Together with privacy and harassment claims, in suitable cases, data protection claims are being brought instead of libel claims.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.