A penny for your thoughts — the ‘honest opinion’ defence

By Rupert Cowper-Coles

The right for a person to express their honest opinion without worrying about being sued is taken for granted by anyone lucky enough to live in a liberal democracy. You don’t need a lawyer to tell you that people should be able to express their thoughts and opinion without being sued for damages or thrown into prison. Defamation law in England and Wales has always reflected the public importance of protecting this sort of opinion, with the new Defamation Act 2013 marking a long-overdue overhaul of one of defamation law’s more outdated and ambiguous defences.

The law has been changed to keep up with modern forms of communication, with opinions no longer the preserve of newspaper editorial columns. With large swathes of the population now communicating their opinions in tweets, Amazon reviews, Facebook posts and subreddits published instantaneously and without any consideration of legal ramifications, the old law sorely needed to modernise. Section 3 of the Defamation Act 2013 attempts just this by abolishing the old common law defence of ‘fair comment’ entirely and implementing a broader statutory defence, newly titled ‘honest opinion’…

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