Reform of Irish Defamation Law

The media landscape has changed dramatically since the implementation of the Defamation Act in 2009. As most instances of defamation take place online, it is essential that these changes are addressed by new defamation legislation in Ireland. Last year, a report following a review of the Defamation Act 2009 was published highlighting the area’s most in need of reform.

On the 28th of March this year, interim Minister for Justice, Simon Harris T.D., published the General Scheme of the Defamation (Amendment) Bill[1] stating that he intends on having a full Bill before the Oireachtas by the end of this year. The Bill aims to address the areas of concern highlighted in last year’s report. The main aim of this report was to ensure the right to freedom of expression was balanced with the right to protection of a person’s good name.

Some notable reforms proposed by the draft legislation:

  • Awards in Irish Defamation cases have been the highest in Europe, sometimes ten times larger than in other countries.[2] It is therefore proposed that the hearing of High Court defamation actions before a jury be abolished, with the view to reducing disproportionate and unpredictable awards.
  • Improve the ability to tackle defamation online – taking note of EU regulations such as the Digital Services Act.
  • Support faster and more effective takedown, apology, and correction – should a person be defamed, the correction must be published with equal prominence as the defamatory publication.[3]
  • Measures to tackle strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) – ‘abusive or meritless lawsuits against someone for exercising their freedom of expression rights.’[4]
  • Reduce legal costs, delays and incentivise alternative methods of dispute resolution.

It is too soon to predict if this upcoming Bill will be enacted by the Government. There have been two other Defamation (Amendment) Bills in the last ten years, neither of which were successfully enacted. However, this is necessary legislation given the huge changes in the media landscape since the last overhaul of legislation in this area, in 2009.

For further information please contact Geoffrey Rooney (Solicitor) or your usual AMOSS contact.

[1] Draft General Scheme Defamation (Amendment) Bill.

[2] Feeney, P ‘Defamation legal reform should facilitate sharper investigative journalism’, The Irish Times, 5 April 2023.

[3] Department of Justice ‘Minister Harris publishes draft legislation to reform Ireland’s defamation laws’, Press Release 28 March 2023.

[4] Diaz Crego M, Del Monte M, 2022 ‘Strategic Lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs)’ European Parliamentary Research Services, September.