The Defamation Act 2009 has recently been enacted. It replaces the separate torts of libel and slander and the new tort of Defamation is defined as "the publication, by any means, of a defamatory statement concerning a person to one or more than one person".

A number of key changes have been introduced with this new enactment. The Circuit Court has jurisdiction to grant damages in defamation actions up to a limit of 50,000. The present level of damages for the Circuit Court in all other matters is 38,000. The Statue of Limitations has been reduced. Prior to the introduction of the Act, a person had three years to bring an action for slander and six years to bring an action for libel. The Defamation Act reduces this period now from one year from the date of publication, and in certain limited circumstances it can be extended by the courts to two years. Up until now, a cause of action for slander or libel came to an end on the death of the plaintiff or defendant. Section 7 and Section 8 of the Civil Liability Act 1961 has now been amended by the Defamation Act 2009, and this enables a cause of action to survive on the death of a party to the proceedings. However no right of action can be taken in respect of any publication concerning a person who is already dead.

The Defamation Act 2009 introduces a number of defences to a publication such as truth, absolute privilege, qualified privilege, honest opinion, consent to publish, fair comment in the matter of public interest and innocent publication.

The Act introduces a new concept of an offer to make amends, which can be utilized by the Defendant in an attempt to mitigate the extent of damages. Prior to the introduction of the 2009 Act, an apology was deemed an admission of liability. An apology now does not determine the liability of the defendant in an action, but again it can be used to mitigate any damages.

The act enables a Judge now to give direction to a jury in relation to damages, whereas prior to the introduction of the Act, no such guidelines or directions were permitted. The act makes provision for the courts to grant a declaratory order to a plaintiff, which is a declaration that the publication or statement made was false and defamatory and this order can be made instead of damages. An injured party can also apply to the court for a correction order forcing the defendant to publish a correction, which can be in lieu of or in addition to damages.

Clients need to be aware of the changes to the law and Paul Lynch and Partners can advise clients as to their rights, duties and obligations under this new legislation.