Judicial Statistics, 2015: Issued defamation claims down by 40%, the second lowest number since 1992

4 06 2016

ministry-of-justiceThe 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:

DefamationIt 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 [2016] 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
2015 4,869 135 3.00 40 71 54
2014 5,417 227 4.00 52 119 56
2013 5,186 142 3.00 37 56 49
2012 5,549 186 3.00 65 60 61
2011 4,726 165 3.49 28 61 76
2010 4,864 158 3.24 27 47 84
2009 5,694 298 5.23 52 62 184
2008 5,173 259 5.00 43 77 139
2007 4,794 233 4.86 43 45 145
2006 4,246 213 5.02 24 39 150
2005 3,841 252 6.56 43 70 139
2004 4,292 267 6.22 30 31 206
2003 3,514 190 5.41 22 15 153
2002 4,394 128 2.91 1 1 126
2001 5,122 220 4.30
2000 5,599 241 4.3
1999 10,317 236 2.29
1998 21,684 379 1.75
1997 23,411 452 1.93
1996 29,834 201 0.67
1995 31,737 560 1.76
1994 37,450 418 1.12
1993 56,567 336 0.59
1992 83,852 337 0.4

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4 responses

5 06 2016
Are expensive libel cases on the way out? | David Hencke

[…] They show a 40 per cent drop in the number of new libel claims in the Royal Courts of Justice between 2014 and 2015 from 227 to 135. Admittedly 2014 had a large number of  new cases but the blog points out that there has been a steady decline in libel actions since 1992. You can read the blog and see the statistics  in full here. […]

5 06 2016
davidhencke

These are fascinating figures. But I wonder whether people realising the huge cost of libel actions are now instead trying to get Google to remove offending criticism on grounds of privacy as you reported earlier this year. The drop in libel cases could be balanced by the big rise in the removal from search engines of critical comments. I have put up a post crediting Inforrm on both points on my own website today.

13 06 2016
Privacy claims reach record level as defamation cases fall away – Law Education Studies

[…] By contrast, the trajectory for defamation actions has been in the opposite direction. Ministry of justice (MoJ) statistics showed that the number of defamation cases taken to the high court in 2015 fell by 40% over the previous year. […]

13 06 2016
Privacy claims reach record level as defamation cases fall away – The Guardian

[…] By contrast, the trajectory for defamation actions has been in the opposite direction. Ministry of justice (MoJ) statistics showed that the number of defamation cases taken to the high court in 2015 fell by 40% over the previous year. […]

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