Defamation laws strengthen right to freedom of expression in Territory

Australian Greens

New laws have been passed in the ACT Legislative Assembly today as part of a national effort to modernise Australia’s defamation laws.

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said that the new laws honour the agreement from all states and territories to harmonise and strengthen defamation laws in a way that balances the right to freedom of expression and the right of a person to protect their reputation.

“On 27 July 2020, the Council of Attorneys-General approved the final version of the Model Defamation Amendment Provisions 2020 – this was the result of over two years of extensive collaboration and work across governments,” Attorney‑General Rattenbury said.

“This Bill is the culmination of an intense reform process, informed by contributions from peak legal bodies, academics, digital platforms, media companies, consumer groups, legal representatives for plaintiffs and defendants, and individuals with experience in bringing or defending defamation claims.

“The Model Defamation Amendment Provisions agreed by the Council of Attorneys-General are far‑reaching, and reflect concerns ventilated through extensive community and sector engagement.”

The amendments will increase protections for the right to freedom of expression, promote the efficient resolution of litigation, and deter vexatious or trivial claims from being pursued.

“The fundamental aim of this Bill is to strike a better balance between, on the one hand, providing fair remedies for a person whose reputation is harmed and, on the other, ensuring that unreasonable limits are not placed on a person’s right to freedom of expression, especially about matters of public interest,” Attorney-General Rattenbury said.

“The Bill also makes changes to address the increasing use of defamation law for trivial and vexatious matters.

“At the forefront of these changes is the introduction of the widely supported serious harm threshold, complemented by the further amendment requiring an aggrieved person to issue a ‘concerns notice’ which allows a defendant to make an offer of amends before litigation can be commenced.

“These reforms encourage pre-trial resolutions, provide protections to people answering to trivial defamation claims and bring the Territory in line with the approach taken in other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.”

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