On 22 February 2021 Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, published the government's Justice Plan 2021. It contains over 200 actions to be implemented within the next twelve months.
It is positive to see that, as part of the plan, the Minister has pledged to review and reform defamation laws. The Department plans to complete and publish a statutory review of the Defamation Act 2009 (the Act) during the first quarter of 2021. It also pledges to prepare a Scheme of Defamation (Amendment) Bill in quarter 4 of 2021, meaning our outdated laws could finally change in 2022. The aim is to ensure a balanced approach to the right to freedom of expression, the right to protection of a good name and reputation and the right of access to justice.
This review is long-awaited. When the Act came into force in Ireland on 1 January 2010, it provided that the Minister for Justice was required to complete a review of its operation within one year of the Act's commencement. While efforts have been made over the past ten years to progress that review, it has never actually been completed.
In September 2020, A&L Goodbody lobbied the Minister for the removal of juries from defamation trials due to the growing evidence that juries award disproportionate damages in defamation claims which in turn can cause inflated settlement amounts and legal costs. See our previous article on this here. We hope that the review addresses these issues.
We therefore welcome this announcement and await the much needed reforms to defamation law in Ireland.
We will be following the review process and will provide further updates as this progresses.