Internet Defamation Consultation

September 17, 2009

Internet defamation has found its way on to the crowded agenda of the Ministry of Justice. On 16 September, the Ministry issued a consultation paper, Defamation and the internet: the multiple publication rule (CP20/09).  

The consultation paper considers the arguments for and against the multiple publication rule (which provides that each publication of defamatory material can form the basis of a new cause of action) and the alternative of a single publication rule which would permit only one action to be brought in England and Wales against particular defamatory material. The single publication rule has been adopted in the USA and a number of other common-law jurisdictions but the multiple publication rule still has its adherents. 

The paper seeks views in principle on whether the multiple publication rule should be retained or a single publication rule introduced and on how a single publication rule might work in practice.  

The paper also considers in that context what limitation period for defamation actions would be appropriate in the light of the Law Commission’s recommendation in its report on Limitation of Actions that the limitation period should be changed from the current period of one year from the date of publication of the allegedly defamatory material to three years from the date of knowledge of the allegedly defamatory material, with a ten year long-stop from the date of publication. 

It is proposed that, if the multiple publication rule were retained, the limitation period should not be extended from the current period of one year from the date of publication (with discretion to extend). It is suggested that, if a single publication rule were to be introduced, the arguments for extending the limitation period beyond one year are not strong, but the paper seeks views on whether a ‘date of publication’ or ‘date of knowledge’ approach should be used, and whether the latter should be accompanied by a ten year long-stop from the date of publication. 

An alternative approach is also considered of extending the defence of qualified privilege to publications on online archives outside the one-year limitation period for the initial publication, unless the publisher refuses or neglects to update the electronic version, on request, with a reasonable letter or statement by the claimant by way of explanation or contradiction.  

The paper can be found at: 

The closing date for responses is 16 December 2009.