Bloggers and other opinionated web commentators may soon face smaller penalties for defaming people.
The UK Ministry of Justice is consulting on a rule that could see publishers of defamatory material on the internet face court action just once instead of every time the offending item is repeated.
A consultation paper now circulating considers the arguments for and against the multiple publication rule now in force. The rule provides that each publication of defamatory material can form the basis of a new cause of action.
Its alternative, a single publication rule, would permit only one action to be brought in England and Wales against particular defamatory material.
The ministry seeks views in principle on whether the multiple publication rule should be retained or a single publication rule introduced, and on how a single publication rule might work in practice.
The consultation also asks for views on the time limitation to bring defamation actions. The Law Commission recently recommended increasing the current period of one year from the date of publication of the allegedly defamatory material to three years from the date of knowledge of the allegedly defamatory material, with a 10 year long-stop from the date of publication.
The ministry suggests that if the multiple publication rule were retained, the limitation period should not be changed from one year from the date of publication, but with discretion to extend.
It says that if a single publication rule were brought in, there was no strong argument for extending the limitation beyond a year. But it wants to know on whether to use the date of publication or date of knowledge approach, and whether to have decade-long stop from the date of publication.
The ministry said it was considering extending the defence of qualified privilege to publications on online archives beyond the one year limitation period for the initial publication, unless the publisher refused or neglected to update the electronic version, on request, with a reasonable letter or statement by the claimant by way of explanation or contradiction.
The consultation closes on 16 December.