Defamation Act Passed in the House of Representatives

Photo: JIS Photographer Attorney General, Hon. Patrick Atkinson in parliament. (FILE)

Story Highlights

  • The amended Defamation Act 2013 seeks to replace the decades-old slander and libel laws.
  • A key feature of the Bill is the abolition of the distinction between libel and slander.
  • The Bill introduces provision for the media not being liable.

The amended Defamation Act 2013, which seeks to replace the decades-old slander and libel laws, was passed in the House of Representatives on November 5 with bi-partisan support.

According to Attorney General, Hon. Patrick Atkinson, who led the debate, a key feature of the Bill is the abolition of the distinction between libel and slander and the establishment of a single cause of action to be known as defamation.

It also seeks to abolish the law related to criminal libel and to institute a legal limit of two years within which a lawsuit for defamation can be filed instead of the previous six years.

Additionally, the Bill introduces provision for the media not being liable, if it innocently disseminates information from a reputable source, and also replaces the defence of justification with the defence of truth.

It also provides provisions for the resolution of disputes without court proceedings, as well as modification for the defence of fair comment.

In giving support to the Act, Opposition Spokesperson on National Security and Justice, Delroy Chuck said “there is very little disagreement with the provisions of the Bill”.

He noted that the Opposition is in “full support” of the Bill, as it seeks  to remove a historical legacy of criminal libel, where persons could have been charged for making “outrageous” comments.

“It has also made it very clear that once a publication is truthful and fair or if it is qualified in certain circumstances that you (the media) have freedom of expression,” he said.

Jamaica previously operated with a Libel and Slander Act, which was passed in 1851, and the Defamation Act, which was passed in 1961.

The legislation was passed in the Upper House in July.

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