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The new law, which encompasses England and Wales, but not Scotland or Northern Ireland, unlike defamation law in the U.S. involving high-profile public officials and public figures, still imposes the burden of proof on the media defendant to prove the truth of allegedly libelous statements. However, Parliament's first revision to plaintiff-friendly defamation laws since 1996 does ramp up the causation standard, requiring individuals to show the offending speech caused or is likely to cause them harm, and corporations to prove serious financial loss, or likely serious financial loss, because of allegedly defamatory statements.
The revised law also focuses on the party who uttered the allegedly libelous speech, shifting responsibility away from Internet Service Providers, for example, that convey the offensive statements. Also receiving a boost is the so-called "public interest" defense that permits media defendants, irrespective of the truth or falsity of the alleged defamatory speech at issue, to claim they published the remarks in good faith and in the public interest.
Free speech advocates are hopeful the new measure will cut down on the practice of libel tourism under which prominent individuals forum-shopped defamation claims into the more favorable setting of U.K. courts, despite sometimes dubious jurisdictional connections to the U.K. (see "TUOL" post 5/24/10). Lord Lester has championed revising libel laws in England for several years. In response to libel tourism, President Obama signed into law in August 2010, the SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring & Established Constitutional Heritage) that would not enforce foreign defamation judgments in the U.S. that ran counter to the tenets of the First Amendment (see "TUOL" post 8/11/10).