Topic: The Australian origins of the defamation defence of responsible publication

Presenter: Dr Eric Descheemaeker - University of Edinburgh

Possibly the most significant development in the law of defamation over the last quarter of a century, across the whole common-law world, has been the recognition of a defence of responsible publication on matter of public interest. In England it was carved out in the case of Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd in 1998 and then put on a statutory footing in the Defamation Act 2013. Besides its practical importance in terms of protecting the freedom of the press, its theoretical significance lies primarily in the fact that it signals the taking over by an essentially negligence standard of large swathes of the law of defamation: while dominant in tort law generally, negligence had historically been almost completely alien to a cause of action controlled by malice.

This presentation will explore the roots of the idea that a defendant should escape liability if he reasonably believed the defamatory matter to be true. These can be traced to developments that occurred in Queensland and New South Wales in the late 19th and early 20th century, and would ultimately lead to a worldwide shift of paradigm in the law of defamation a century later. 

Dr Eric Descheemaeker is Reader in European Private Law at the University of Edinburgh 

All welcome, no RSVP required.

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