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DEFAMATION ACT 1996

UK Public General Acts

Version 26/05/2015

1996 CHAPTER 31

Default Geographical Extent: E+W+S+N.I.


  • Responsibility for publication
  • Offer to make amends
  • Limitation (E+W+N.I.)
  • The meaning of a statement (E+W+N.I.)
  • Summary disposal of claim (E+W+N.I.)
  • Evidence of convictions
  • Evidence concerning proceedings in Parliament
  • Statutory privilege
  • Supplementary provisions
  • General provisions
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  • Version 04/07/1996

Introductory Text

Defamation Act 1996

1996 CHAPTER 31

An Act to amend the law of defamation and to amend the law of limitation with respect to actions for defamation or malicious falsehood.

[4th July 1996]

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

Annotations:

Extent Information

E1 For extent see s. 18(1)(2)(3).

Modifications etc. (not altering text)

C1 Act transfer of functions (12.4.2010) by The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010 (S.I. 2010/976), Sch. 17 para. 14 (with arts. 28-31)


Responsibility for publication


1 Responsibility for publication.

(1) In defamation proceedings a person has a defence if he shows that—

(a) he was not the author, editor or publisher of the statement complained of,
(b) he took reasonable care in relation to its publication, and
(c) he did not know, and had no reason to believe, that what he did caused or contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement.
(2) For this purpose “author”, “editor” and “publisher” have the following meanings, which are further explained in subsection (3) — “author” means the originator of the statement, but does not include a person who did not intend that his statement be published at all; “editor” means a person having editorial or equivalent responsibility for the content of the statement or the decision to publish it; and “publisher” means a commercial publisher, that is, a person whose business is issuing material to the public, or a section of the public, who issues material containing the statement in the course of that business.

(3) A person shall not be considered the author, editor or publisher of a statement if he is only involved—

(a) in printing, producing, distributing or selling printed material containing the statement;
(b) in processing, making copies of, distributing, exhibiting or selling a film or sound recording (as defined in Part I of the M1 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) containing the statement;
(c) in processing, making copies of, distributing or selling any electronic medium in or on which the statement is recorded, or in operating or providing any equipment, system or service by means of which the statement is retrieved, copied, distributed or made available in electronic form;
(d) as the broadcaster of a live programme containing the statement in circumstances in which he has no effective control over the maker of the statement;
(e) as the operator of or provider of access to a communications system by means of which the statement is transmitted, or made available, by a person over whom he has no effective control.
In a case not within paragraphs (a) to (e) the court may have regard to those provisions by way of analogy in deciding whether a person is to be considered the author, editor or publisher of a statement.
(4) Employees or agents of an author, editor or publisher are in the same position as their employer or principal to the extent that they are responsible for the content of the statement or the decision to publish it.

(5) In determining for the purposes of this section whether a person took reasonable care, or had reason to believe that what he did caused or contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement, regard shall be had to—

(a) the extent of his responsibility for the content of the statement or the decision to publish it,
(b) the nature or circumstances of the publication, and
(c) the previous conduct or character of the author, editor or publisher.
(6) This section does not apply to any cause of action which arose before the section came into force.

Annotations:

Marginal Citations

M1 1988 c. 48.


Offer to make amends


2 Offer to make amends.

(1) A person who has published a statement alleged to be defamatory of another may offer to make amends under this section.

(2) The offer may be in relation to the statement generally or in relation to a specific defamatory meaning which the person making the offer accepts that the statement conveys (“a qualified offer”).

(3) An offer to make amends—

(a) must be in writing,
(b) must be expressed to be an offer to make amends under section 2 of the Defamation Act 1996, and
(c) must state whether it is a qualified offer and, if so, set out the defamatory meaning in relation to which it is made.
(4) An offer to make amends under this section is an offer—

(a) to make a suitable correction of the statement complained of and a sufficient apology to the aggrieved party,
(b) to publish the correction and apology in a manner that is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances, and
(c) to pay to the aggrieved party such compensation (if any) , and such costs, as may be agreed or determined to be payable.
The fact that the offer is accompanied by an offer to take specific steps does not affect the fact that an offer to make amends under this section is an offer to do all the things mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (c).
(5) An offer to make amends under this section may not be made by a person after serving a defence in defamation proceedings brought against him by the aggrieved party in respect of the publication in question.

(6) An offer to make amends under this section may be withdrawn before it is accepted; and a renewal of an offer which has been withdrawn shall be treated as a new offer.

Annotations:

Commencement Information

I1 S. 2 wholly in force; s. 2 not in force at Royal Assent see s. 19; s. 2 in force for E.W. at 28.2.2000 by S.I. 2000/222, art. 3; s. 2 in force at for S. at 31.3.2001 by S.S.I. 2001/98, art. 3(a)

I2 S. 2 in force at 6.1.2010 for N.I. by S.I. 2009/2858, art. 3(a)


3 Accepting an offer to make amends.

(1) If an offer to make amends under section 2 is accepted by the aggrieved party, the following provisions apply.

(2) The party accepting the offer may not bring or continue defamation proceedings in respect of the publication concerned against the person making the offer, but he is entitled to enforce the offer to make amends, as follows.

(3) If the parties agree on the steps to be taken in fulfilment of the offer, the aggrieved party may apply to the court for an order that the other party fulfil his offer by taking the steps agreed.

(4) If the parties do not agree on the steps to be taken by way of correction, apology and publication, the party who made the offer may take such steps as he thinks appropriate, and may in particular—

(a) make the correction and apology by a statement in open court in terms approved by the court, and
(b) give an undertaking to the court as to the manner of their publication.
(5) If the parties do not agree on the amount to be paid by way of compensation, it shall be determined by the court on the same principles as damages in defamation proceedings.

The court shall take account of any steps taken in fulfilment of the offer and (so far as not agreed between the parties) of the suitability of the correction, the sufficiency of the apology and whether the manner of their publication was reasonable in the circumstances, and may reduce or increase the amount of compensation accordingly.
(6) If the parties do not agree on the amount to be paid by way of costs, it shall be determined by the court on the same principles as costs awarded in court proceedings.

(7) The acceptance of an offer by one person to make amends does not affect any cause of action against another person in respect of the same publication, subject as follows.

(8) In England and Wales or Northern Ireland, for the purposes of the M2 Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978—

(a) the amount of compensation paid under the offer shall be treated as paid in bona fide settlement or compromise of the claim; and
(b) where another person is liable in respect of the same damage (whether jointly or otherwise) , the person whose offer to make amends was accepted is not required to pay by virtue of any contribution under section 1 of that Act a greater amount than the amount of the compensation payable in pursuance of the offer.
(9) In Scotland—

(a) subsection (2) of section 3 of the M3 Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1940 (right of one joint wrongdoer as respects another to recover contribution towards damages) applies in relation to compensation paid under an offer to make amends as it applies in relation to damages in an action to which that section applies; and
(b) where another person is liable in respect of the same damage (whether jointly or otherwise) , the person whose offer to make amends was accepted is not required to pay by virtue of any contribution under section 3(2) of that Act a greater amount than the amount of compensation payable in pursuance of the offer.
(10) Proceedings under this section shall be heard and determined without a jury.

Annotations:

Extent Information

E2 S. 3(1)-(7)(10) extend to the United Kingdom; s. 3(8) extends to England and Wales and Northern Ireland; s. 3(9) extends to Scotland see s. 18(1)(2)(3).

Commencement Information

I3 S. 3 partly in force; s. 3 not in force at Royal Assent see s. 19; s. 3 in force for E.W. at 28.2.2000 by S.I. 2000/222, art. 3; s. 3(1)-(7)(9)(10) in force for S. at 31.3.2001 by S.S.I. 2001/98, art. 3(a)

I4 S. 3(1)-(8) (10) in force at 6.1.2010 for N.I. by S.I. 2009/2858, art. 3(a)

Marginal Citations

M2 1978 c. 47.

M3 1940 c. 42.


4 Failure to accept offer to make amends.

(1) If an offer to make amends under section 2, duly made and not withdrawn, is not accepted by the aggrieved party, the following provisions apply.

(2) The fact that the offer was made is a defence (subject to subsection (3) ) to defamation proceedings in respect of the publication in question by that party against the person making the offer.

A qualified offer is only a defence in respect of the meaning to which the offer related.
(3) There is no such defence if the person by whom the offer was made knew or had reason to believe that the statement complained of—

(a) referred to the aggrieved party or was likely to be understood as referring to him, and
(b) was both false and defamatory of that party;
but it shall be presumed until the contrary is shown that he did not know and had no reason to believe that was the case.
(4) The person who made the offer need not rely on it by way of defence, but if he does he may not rely on any other defence.

If the offer was a qualified offer, this applies only in respect of the meaning to which the offer related.
(5) The offer may be relied on in mitigation of damages whether or not it was relied on as a defence.

Annotations:

Commencement Information

I5 S. 4 wholly in force; s. 4 not in force at Royal Assent see s. 19; s. 4 in force for E.W. at 28.2.2000 by S.I. 2000/222, art. 3; s. 4 in force at for S. 31.3.2001 by S.S.I. 2001/98, art. 3(a)

I6 S. 4 in force at 6.1.2010 for N.I. by S.I. 2009/2858, art. 3(a)


Limitation (E+W+N.I.)


5 Limitation of actions: England and Wales. (E+W)

(1) The M4 Limitation Act 1980 is amended as follows.

(2) For section 4A (time limit for action for libel or slander) substitute—

“4A Time limit for actions for defamation or malicious falsehood.
The time limit under section 2 of this Act shall not apply to an action for—
(a) libel or slander, or
(b) slander of title, slander of goods or other malicious falsehood,
but no such action shall be brought after the expiration of one year from the date on which the cause of action accrued.”.
(3) In section 28 (extension of limitation period in case of disability) , for subsection (4A) substitute—

“(4A) If the action is one to which section 4A of this Act applies, subsection (1) above shall have effect—
(a) in the case of an action for libel or slander, as if for the words from “at any time” to “occurred) ” there were substituted the words “by him at any time before the expiration of one year from the date on which he ceased to be under a disability”; and
(b) in the case of an action for slander of title, slander of goods or other malicious falsehood, as if for the words “six years” there were substituted the words “one year”.”.
(4) For section 32A substitute—

“ Discretionary exclusion of time limit for actions for defamation or malicious falsehood (E+W)
32A Discretionary exclusion of time limit for actions for defamation or malicious falsehood.
(1) If it appears to the court that it would be equitable to allow an action to proceed having regard to the degree to which—
(a) the operation of section 4A of this Act prejudices the plaintiff or any person whom he represents, and
(b) any decision of the court under this subsection would prejudice the defendant or any person whom he represents,
the court may direct that that section shall not apply to the action or shall not apply to any specified cause of action to which the action relates.
(2) In acting under this section the court shall have regard to all the circumstances of the case and in particular to—
(a) the length of, and the reasons for, the delay on the part of the plaintiff;
(b) where the reason or one of the reasons for the delay was that all or any of the facts relevant to the cause of action did not become known to the plaintiff until after the end of the period mentioned in section 4A—
(i) the date on which any such facts did become known to him, and
(ii) the extent to which he acted promptly and reasonably once he knew whether or not the facts in question might be capable of giving rise to an action; and
(c) the extent to which, having regard to the delay, relevant evidence is likely—
(i) to be unavailable, or
(ii) to be less cogent than if the action had been brought within the period mentioned in section 4A.
(3) In the case of an action for slander of title, slander of goods or other malicious falsehood brought by a personal representative—
(a) the references in subsection (2) above to the plaintiff shall be construed as including the deceased person to whom the cause of action accrued and any previous personal representative of that person; and
(b) nothing in section 28(3) of this Act shall be construed as affecting the court’s discretion under this section.
(4) In this section “ the court ” means the court in which the action has been brought.”.
(5) In section 36(1) (expiry of time limit no bar to equitable relief) , for paragraph (aa) substitute—

“(aa) the time limit under section 4A for actions for libel or slander, or for slander of title, slander of goods or other malicious falsehood;”.
(6) The amendments made by this section apply only to causes of action arising after the section comes into force.

Annotations:

Marginal Citations

M4 1980 c. 58.


6 Limitation of actions: Northern Ireland. (N.I.)

(1) The M5 Limitation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 is amended as follows.

(2) In Article 6 (time limit: certain actions founded on tort) for paragraph (2) substitute—

“(2) Subject to Article 51, an action for damages for—
(a) libel or slander; or
(b) slander of title, slander of goods or other malicious falsehood,
may not be brought after the expiration of one year from the date on which the cause of action accrued.”.
(3) In Article 48 (extension of time limit) , for paragraph (7) substitute—

“(7) Where the action is one to which Article 6(2) applies, paragraph (1) has effect—
(a) in the case of an action for libel and slander, as if for the words from “at any time” to “occurred” there were substituted the words “by him at any time before the expiration of one year from the date on which he ceased to be under a disability”; and
(b) in the case of an action for slander of title, slander of goods or other malicious falsehood, as if for the words “six years” there were substituted the words “one year”.”.
(4) For Article 51 substitute—

“51 “Court’s power to override time limit: actions for defamation or malicious falsehood.
(1) If it appears to the court that it would be equitable to allow an action to proceed having regard to the degree to which—
(a) the provisions of Article 6(2) prejudice the plaintiff or any person whom he represents; and
(b) any decision of the court under this paragraph would prejudice the defendant or any person whom he represents,
the court may direct that those provisions are not to apply to the action, or are not to apply to any specified cause of action to which the action relates.
(2) In acting under this Article the court is to have regard to all the circumstances of the case and in particular to—
(a) the length of, and the reasons for, the delay on the part of the plaintiff;
(b) in a case where the reason, or one of the reasons, for the delay was that all or any of the facts relevant to the cause of action did not become known to the plaintiff until after the expiration of the period mentioned in Article 6(2) —
(i) the date on which any such facts did become known to him, and
(ii) the extent to which he acted promptly and reasonably once he knew whether or not the facts in question might be capable of giving rise to an action; and
(c) the extent to which, having regard to the delay, relevant evidence is likely—
(i) to be unavailable, or
(ii) to be less cogent than if the action had been brought within the time allowed by Article 6(2).
(3) In the case of an action for slander of title, slander of goods or other malicious falsehood brought by a personal representative—
(a) the references in paragraph (2) to the plaintiff shall be construed as including the deceased person to whom the cause of action accrued and any previous personal representative of that person; and
(b) nothing in Article 48(3) shall be construed as affecting the court’s discretion under this Article.
(4) In this Article “ the court ” means the court in which the action has been brought.”.
(5) The amendments made by this section apply only to causes of action arising after the section comes into force.

Annotations:

Marginal Citations

M5 S.I. 1989/1339 (N.I. 11).


The meaning of a statement (E+W+N.I.)


7 Ruling on the meaning of a statement. (E+W+N.I.)

In defamation proceedings the court shall not be asked to rule whether a statement is arguably capable, as opposed to capable, of bearing a particular meaning or meanings attributed to it.

Annotations:

Commencement Information

I7 S.7 partly in force; s.7 not in force at Royal Assent, see s. 19; s. 7 in force (E.W.) at 28.2.2000 by S.I. 2000/222, art. 3

I8 S. 7 in force at 6.1.2010 for N.I. by S.I. 2009/2858, art. 3(b)


Summary disposal of claim (E+W+N.I.)


8 Summary disposal of claim. (E+W+N.I.)

(1) In defamation proceedings the court may dispose summarily of the plaintiff’s claim in accordance with the following provisions.

(2) The court may dismiss the plaintiff’s claim if it appears to the court that it has no realistic prospect of success and there is no reason why it should be tried.

(3) The court may give judgment for the plaintiff and grant him summary relief (see section 9) if it appears to the court that there is no defence to the claim which has a realistic prospect of success, and that there is no other reason why the claim should be tried.

Unless the plaintiff asks for summary relief, the court shall not act under this subsection unless it is satisfied that summary relief will adequately compensate him for the wrong he has suffered.
(4) In considering whether a claim should be tried the court shall have regard to—

(a) whether all the persons who are or might be defendants in respect of the publication complained of are before the court;
(b) whether summary disposal of the claim against another defendant would be inappropriate;
(c) the extent to which there is a conflict of evidence;
(d) the seriousness of the alleged wrong (as regards the content of the statement and the extent of publication) ; and
(e) whether it is justifiable in the circumstances to proceed to a full trial.
(5) Proceedings under this section shall be heard and determined without a jury.

Annotations:

Commencement Information

I9 S. 8 partly in force; s. 8 not in force at Royal Assent, see s. 19; s. 8 in force (E.W.) at 28.2.2000 by S.I. 2000/222, art. 3

I10 S. 8 in force at 6.1.2010 for N.I. by S.I. 2009/2858, art. 3(c)


9 Meaning of summary relief. (E+W+N.I.)

(1) For the purposes of section 8 (summary disposal of claim) “summary relief” means such of the following as may be appropriate—

(a) a declaration that the statement was false and defamatory of the plaintiff;
(b) an order that the defendant publish or cause to be published a suitable correction and apology;
(c) damages not exceeding £10,000 or such other amount as may be prescribed by order of the Lord Chancellor;
(d) an order restraining the defendant from publishing or further publishing the matter complained of.
(2) The content of any correction and apology, and the time, manner, form and place of publication, shall be for the parties to agree.

If they cannot agree on the content, the court may direct the defendant to publish or cause to be published a summary of the court’s judgment agreed by the parties or settled by the court in accordance with rules of court.
If they cannot agree on the time, manner, form or place of publication, the court may direct the defendant to take such reasonable and practicable steps as the court considers appropriate.
[F1 (2A) The Lord Chancellor must consult the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales before making any order under subsection (1) (c) in relation to England and Wales.

(2B) The Lord Chancellor must consult the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland before making any order under subsection (1) (c) in relation to Northern Ireland.

(2C) The Lord Chief Justice may nominate a judicial office holder (as defined in section 109(4) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005) to exercise his functions under this section.

(2D) The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland may nominate any of the following to exercise his functions under this section—

(a) the holder of one of the offices listed in Schedule 1 to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002;
(b) a Lord Justice of Appeal (as defined in section 88 of that Act).]
(3) [F2 Subject to subsection (4) ] Any order under subsection (1) (c) shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

[F3 (4) Any order made by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland under subsection (1) (c) shall be made by statutory rule for the purposes of the Statutory Rules (Northern Ireland) Order 1979, and shall be subject to negative resolution within the meaning of section 41(6) of the Interpretation Act (Northern Ireland) 1954.]

Annotations:

Amendments (Textual)

F1 S. 9(2A)-(2D) inserted (3.4.2006) by Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c. 4), s. 148(1), Sch. 4 para. 255; S.I. 2006/1014, art. 2(a), Sch. 1 para. 11(v)

F2 Words in s. 9(3) inserted (12.4.2010) by The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010 (S.I. 2010/976), Sch. 18 para. 52(a) (with arts. 28-31)

F3 S. 9(4) inserted (12.4.2010) by The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010 (S.I. 2010/976), Sch. 18 para. 52(b) (with arts. 28-31)

Commencement Information

I11 S. 9 partly in force; s. 9 not in force at Royal Assent, see s. 19; s. 9 in force (E.W.) at 28.2.2000 by S.I. 2000/222, art. 3

I12 S. 9 in force at 6.1.2010 for N.I. by S.I. 2009/2858, art. 3(c)