Modern libel and slander laws, as implemented in many (but not all) Commonwealth nations as well as in the United States and in the Republic of Ireland, are originally descended from English defamation law. The history of defamation law in England is somewhat obscure; civil actions for damages seem to have been relatively frequent as far back as the reign of Edward I (1272–1307), though it is unknown whether any generally applicable criminal process was in place. The first fully reported case in which libel is affirmed generally to be punishable at common law was tried during the reign of James I (1603-1625). Scholars frequently attribute strict English defamation law to James I's outlawing of dueling. From that time, both the criminal and civil remedies have been found in full operation.

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  • Modern libel and slander laws, as implemented in many (but not all) Commonwealth nations as well as in the United States and in the Republic of Ireland, are originally descended from English defamation law. The history of defamation law in England is somewhat obscure; civil actions for damages seem to have been relatively frequent as far back as the reign of Edward I (1272–1307), though it is unknown whether any generally applicable criminal process was in place. The first fully reported case in which libel is affirmed generally to be punishable at common law was tried during the reign of James I (1603-1625). Scholars frequently attribute strict English defamation law to James I's outlawing of dueling. From that time, both the criminal and civil remedies have been found in full operation. English law allows actions for libel to be brought in the High Court for any published statements which are alleged to defame a named or identifiable individual(s) (under English law companies are legal persons, and may bring suit for defamation) in a manner which causes them loss in their trade or profession, or causes a reasonable person to think worse of him, her or them. Allowable defences are justification (i.e. the truth of the statement), fair comment (i.e., whether the statement was a view that a reasonable person could have held), and privilege (i.e., whether the statements were made in Parliament or in court, or whether they were fair reports of allegations in the public interest). An offer of amends is a barrier to litigation. A defamatory statement is presumed to be false, unless the defendant can prove its truth. Furthermore, to collect compensatory damages, a public official or public figure must prove actual malice (knowing falsity or reckless disregard for the truth). A private individual must only prove negligence (not exercising due care) to collect compensatory damages. In order to collect punitive damages, all individuals must prove actual malice. English defamation law puts the burden of proving the truth of allegedly defamatory statements on the defendant, rather than the plaintiff, and has been considered an impediment to free speech in much of the developed world. In many cases of libel tourism, plaintiffs sued in England to censor critical works when their home countries would reject the case outright. In the United States, the 2010 SPEECH Act makes foreign libel judgements unenforceable and unrecognizable by U.S. courts if they don't comply with U.S. protections for freedom of speech and due process, and was made largely in response to the English laws. The Defamation Act 2013 substantially reformed English defamation law in recognition of these concerns, by strengthening the criteria (including geographical relevance criteria) for a successful claim, mandating evidence of actual or probable harm, curtailing sharply the scope for claims of (in which republication or continued visibility comprises ongoing renewed defamation), and enhancing the scope of existing defences for website operators, public interest, and publications, including peer reviewed scientific journals. The 2013 law applies to causes of action occurring after its commencement on 1 January 2014; old libel law will therefore still apply in many 2014–2015 defamation cases where the events complained of took place before commencement. Northern Ireland is not subject to the Defamation Act 2013 and has not passed a similar reform. This has already caused controversy regarding the publishing of the book and broadcasting of the documentary Going Clear. (en)
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  • Modern libel and slander laws, as implemented in many (but not all) Commonwealth nations as well as in the United States and in the Republic of Ireland, are originally descended from English defamation law. The history of defamation law in England is somewhat obscure; civil actions for damages seem to have been relatively frequent as far back as the reign of Edward I (1272–1307), though it is unknown whether any generally applicable criminal process was in place. The first fully reported case in which libel is affirmed generally to be punishable at common law was tried during the reign of James I (1603-1625). Scholars frequently attribute strict English defamation law to James I's outlawing of dueling. From that time, both the criminal and civil remedies have been found in full operation. (en)
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  • English defamation law (en)
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