Proposed changes to defamation law set to be accepted by Government

The Government is likely to accept a report recommending major changes in defamation law that are set to reduce huge payouts in libel cases.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will seek Cabinet approval on Tuesday morning to draw up a new Bill based on the report, which will implement significant changes in the way libel cases operate.

Most notably the report recommends that juries be abolished in defamation cases, a move which is intended to reduce large awards. Newspapers and other media outlets have long campaigned against Ireland’s defamation regime, reckoned to be one of the least media-friendly in Europe.

If the Government accepts the report and proceeds to legislate accordingly, the judge in a case would decide whether a libel has taken place and what the level of damages should be.

It is intended that this will reduce awards, but also simplify and reduce the length of time taken by libel trials, thus reducing legal costs.

The uncertainty of outcomes in libel trials before a jury and the vast costs involved, often persuade media outlets to settle libel actions by paying off the plaintiff, even when they believe no defamation has occurred.

The new proposals would also see the introduction of an “anti-Slapp” mechanism, where a defendant to a libel claim can seek to have the case dismissed on the grounds that it is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” – a case taken by a rich and powerful person or corporation to deter criticism or investigation.

The report also contains a series of other proposed restrictions on defamation actions.

The Cabinet is also likely to be briefed on the HSE’s service plan for the year. The plan will detail how the HSE plans to spend the €21 billion budget allocated for public healthcare this year. It is expected to place a high priority on tackling waiting lists, which have expanded hugely due to services in many areas being suspended during Covid.

The Cabinet is also likely to approve a white paper on enterprise development, as well as proposals relating to the census and electoral reforms.

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