September 2, 2012 8:07 pm

Defamation cases fall post-Leveson

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Defamation lawsuits heard in the UK have fallen 15 per cent in the year to May to their lowest point in at least three years, following a public inquiry into media standards and ethics.

The Leveson inquiry – set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and due to report recommendations to the government in October – and the spotlight that has been shone on to journalistic practices could be one reason why defamation cases are at the lowest since 2008, with 71 cases in the 12 months ending in May. This compares with 84 cases in the previous 12 months, according to data compiled by Sweet & Maxwell.

Traditional media companies have also been sued less over the period, with just 27 lawsuits naming such defendants, a five-year low.

“Public scrutiny following the eruption of the phone-hacking scandal is leading to a lower appetite for risk for some media outlets,” said Korieh Duodu, a media lawyer at David Price Solicitors, and previously a lawyer for the Guardian. The scandal and subsequent inquiry “will mean a more conciliatory, less controversial approach and fewer defamation cases”.

Ultimately unsuccessful litigation brought by Nat Rothschild, the financier, against the publisher of the Daily Mail this year was one of the few libel cases brought by high-profile individuals, who are increasingly turning to privacy law rather than defamation. Privacy injunctions stop articles ever being published, even if true, while defamation cases are largely reactive.

But recent gagging orders, including those obtained by footballers John Terry and Ryan Giggs, have collapsed, which could make it harder to secure anonymity orders in the future.

“Such cases have demonstrated painfully for those clients how privacy injunctions can backfire by increasing the public’s interest in the very story that the individual is trying to quash,” said Mr Duodu.

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