Judicial Statistics, 2016: Issued defamation claims down by 17%, lowest recorded number in modern times

6 06 2017

The most recent annual Judicial Statistics – those for 2016 – show a further small decline in the number of issued defamation claims.  These are by down by 17% on 2015.  In 2015 there were 112 issued defamation claims in London (where the large majority of claims are made) as opposed to 135 in 2015 (and 227 in 2014).

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 1 June 2017.  Most (although not all) libel claims are issued in the Royal Courts of Justice.The 2016 figure is only slightly lower than that for 2015 but is, nevertheless the lowest for which we have records available.  There is a continuing downward trend in the volume of libel litigation in the English Courts.

It is difficult to discern any substantial contribution by the Defamation Act 2013 to this trend.  The average number of claims per annum in the 3 years before the Act came into force was 164 and the average for the 3 years after it came into force was 158.

The long term downward trend in the number of claims is probably explained by 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  data protection claims against the media – they are, presumably included in the 956 “miscellaneous” claims issued.   Anecdotal evidence suggests that data protection claims against the media are on the increase but it is not possible to verify this from the official statistics.

The Ministry of Justice does now publish statistics on privacy injunctions which 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 2016 [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.

Claims issued in London (QB) Defamation Claims Issued in London % of all London (QB) Claims issued £15-50k £>50k No Value Stated
2016 4,123 112 3.00 42 60 10
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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6 06 2017
‘Judicial Statistics, 2016: Issued defamation claims down by 17%, lowest recorded number in modern times’ | Private Law Theory - Obligations, property, legal theory

[…] “The most recent annual Judicial Statistics – those for 2016 – show a further small decline in the number of issued defamation claims. These are by down by 17% on 2015. In 2015 there were 112 issued defamation claims in London (where the large majority of claims are made) as opposed to 135 in 2015 (and 227 in 2014) …” (more) […]

6 06 2017
jtownend

It’s a pity that the official data on defamation claims is so patchy and limited (see: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/67614/3/Townend%20closed%20data.pdf). The number of claims alone isn’t very useful – we need recorded outcomes and correlation with hearing details and judgment lists and costs / damages in order to more fully understand the nature and extent of defamation proceedings.

There seems no good reason why statistics for other types of media / publication related litigation aren’t recorded alongside defamation. This seems an equally important issue to raise with the judiciary/HMCTS, alongside concerns about privacy injunction data: https://inforrm.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/where-did-all-the-privacy-injunctions-go-a-response-to-the-queens-bench-media-list-consultation-judith-townend/

6 06 2017
daveyone1

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