The most recent annual Judicial Statistics – those for 2015 – show a sharp decline in the number of issued defamation claims, down by up by 40% on 2014. In 2015 there were 135 issued defamation claims in London (where the large majority of claims are made) as opposed to 227 in 2014 (and 142 in 2013).
The Ministry of Justice no longer publishes a separate annual “Judicial Statistics” bulletin but the figures can be now be found in the Royal Courts of Justice Tables [xls] which were published on 2 June 2016. Most (although not all) libel claims are issued in the Royal Courts of Justice.
The 2015 figure is only slightly lower than that for 2013 but is, nevertheless the second lowest since 1992. The 2014 figure was high and appeared to contradict the views of many commentators that the Defamation Act 2013 (which came into force on 1 January 2014) would lead to a further decline in the number of defamation claims. However, the low number of claims issued in 2015 suggest that the 2014 figures may have been a “blip” in a continuing downward trend in the volume of libel litigation in the English Courts. This is illustrated by the “trendline” on the graph of claims since 1992:
It is difficult to discern any substantial contribution by the Defamation Act 2013 to this continuing downward trend which is probably explained by other factors such as the general increase in the costs of litigation and the “cap” on libel damages. Even with costs budgeting, both parties’ cost of a libel case taken to full trial are likely to be of the order of £700,000 (for example, Stocker £682,000; Yeo, £716,000). Damages are effectively capped at £275,000 for the most serious possible libel (see Barron v Vines  EWHC 1226 (QB)) but, in practice, even after a contested trial awards rarely exceed £100,000. It has also been suggested that the Reynolds qualified privilege defence (now “Publication on Matter of Public Interest” under section 4 of the Defamation Act 2013) has, by encouraging journalistic responsibility, reduced the number of egregious libels and so the number of actions.
There is no separate record of the number of privacy and other claims against the media – they are, presumably included in the 1386 “miscellaneous” claims issued. The Ministry of Justice does now publish statistics on privacy injunctions which now form part of the Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly and are published every 6 months. The most recent edition containing privacy injunction statistics is October-December 2015 [pdf]. We had a post about these statistics when they were published in March 2016.
More details of libel claims can be found in this table of defamation (and other) claims since 1992 – adapted from a table which was originally provided to us by media solicitors RPC.
|Year||Claims issued in London (QB)||Defamation Claims Issued in London||% of all London (QB) Claims issued||£15-50k||£>50k||No value stated|