States Agree on Uniform Defamation Laws

State and territory governments have reached agreement on uniform defamation laws across Australia.

The new laws are set to be introduced on 1 January 2006.

State and territory attorneys-general are meeting in New Zealand and are about to release a draft bill on defamation laws.

A statement from the group says: “The model bill has been carefully drafted to strike the balance between the right to free speech and the legitimate need to protect reputation.”

Legislative reforms will ensure:
* truth is a stand alone defence
* ban defamation cases against dead people
* remove the right of corporations to sue individuals
* shorten the time limit for suits to 12 months
* cap damages so they are no more than awards for injuries
* streamline offers of amends such as apologies and withdrawals of allegations
* encourage speedy settlements.

Media organisations, the legal profession and lawyers were consulted and the states and territories have described the bill as an historic agreement.

They hope the national, uniform laws will stop ‘forum shopping’, where people pick and choose the state in which to take legal action.

The Federal Government had threatened to bring in national laws if the states could not agree, arguing that in an age of national tv networks and the internet, having eight different defamation laws was untenable.

It also maintains the different regimes cause confusion about what constitutes defamation and has led to the forum shopping across jurisdictions.

Despite the breakthrough, Federal Attorney-General, Phillip Ruddock, says he has concerns about the draft bill.

He has welcomed the collective effort, but says many proposals in the draft are unsatisfactory.

“It does raise some concerns there are issues that have not been clearly resolved to have achieved uniformity.

“One of those relates to the role of juries.

“There are other issues in which – in my outline proposals – they’ve taken a different view.”

The model bill taken to state and territory cabvarchar(15)s over the next year.