Proposed amendments to Queensland defamation laws will include the introduction of two new legal defences and the setting of financial “caps’’ for non-economic reparations and “upper-limits’’ for aggravated damages.
Queensland’s Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Shannon Fentiman said proposed amendments to the state’s defamation provisions introduced yesterday (Tuesday 20 April) would ensure open and transparent reporting and freedom of expression for all “modern media.’’
Ms Fentiman said the Defamation (Model Provisions) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (the Bill) had been introduced to Parliament and, if passed, amendments to the Defamation Act 2005 would take effect from 1 July, 2021.
The reforms, designed to update the national approach to defamation laws, would provide greater clarity to the courts, the community and the media, she said.
“Freedom of expression, modern media reporting and protection of individuals from reputational harm are on the agenda … with significant amendments being introduced to defamation law provisions.’’
“This is a significant step to protect freedom of expression for Queenslanders, and ensure open and transparent reporting in our state.”
The proposed legislative amendments are expected to apply to defamatory matters published after the commencement of the amendments, meaning existing proceedings will continue under the prior laws.
Some of the key reforms introduced in the Bill include:
- a single publication rule (for multiple publications of the same defamation matter) to provide simplicity around the one-year limitation reporting period;
- a serious harm threshold to be established by a party taking action for defamation and a requirement to issue a concerns notice prior to going to court;
- two new defences, including a public interest defence and a defence applying to peer-reviewed statements/assessments in a scientific or academic journal; and
- greater clarification around the cap on damages for non-economic loss, setting the upper limit on a scale and applying regardless of whether aggravated damages apply.
Ms Fentiman said: “These updates to our laws around defamation have been proposed after considerable consultation with the public, legal and academic experts, and stakeholders.”
“Guidance has also been provided by case law from both Australia and overseas, and having regard to advancements in technology during this time.”
In July 2020, Attorney-Generals from each Australian state and territory came together to support the enactment of major reform to the law of defamation that would be consistent at a national level.
The second stage of the Model Defamation Provisions is currently underway and expected to focus on the responsibilities and liability of digital platforms for defamatory conduct and the defences applying to disclosures of criminal conduct and misconduct in the workforce.