There has been some concern following a report that, in an instance relating to a case in Estonia, the European Court of Human Rights held a news site legally responsible for the comments put up on their site though they had been taken down after a complaint.

rupert jones birmingham barristerRupert Jones, a Birmingham barrister who specialises in media law at Citadel Chambers, has directed the attention of investigative journalist David Hencke, to draft regulations tabled by the Ministry of Justice in the new Defamation Act. They are designed to protect English and Welsh bloggers from being sued if people put up unwanted libellous comments on their websites. The regulations will be debated by a committee of MPs and peers before becoming law.

David Hencke comments:

“From my reading as a journalist they allow bloggers 48 hours or two working days after a complaint has been received to contact the person who put up the comment and make a decision whether to take down the comment. It also allows – if both sides agree – for the person complaining about the comment to be put in touch with person who posted it . . .

“Luckily all people commenting have to leave an email address – even if they are not using their real name – where they can be contacted”.

Key points listed on the website of Parliament UK:

  • includes a requirement for claimants to show that they have suffered serious harm before suing for defamation
  • removes the current presumption in favour of a jury trial
  • introduces a defence of “responsible publication on matters of public interest”
  • provides increased protection to operators of websites that host user-generated content, providing they comply with the procedure to enable the complainant to resolve disputes directly with the author of the material concerned
  • introduces new statutory defences of truth and honest opinion to replace the common law defences of justification and fair comment.

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