Science fiction or science fact? The Defamation Act 2014

By Mike Ioannides and Amber Melville-Brown

That science and new scientific developments are a vital part of our modern society is reflected in one of the changes brought into defamation law by the new Defamation Act 2013. We now have a shiny new state-of-the-art defence of qualified privilege in relation to peer-reviewed material published in scientific or academic journals.

Scientists and academics have argued for years that there ought to be legislative safeguards in place, enabling them to undertake research, debate important issues and publish results without fear of being sued for defamation.

Back in 2009, leading cardiologist Dr Wilmshurst had been involved in a clinical trial of a medical device designed to close holes in hearts; he had complained at a medical conference that the results from the clinical trial had not been fully published, meaning, he asserted, that the public was not completely aware of issues regarding the safety and effectiveness of the device. Following these comments, he was sued for defamation by the device manufacturer, with the litigation lasting for four years until the manufacturer eventually went into liquidation…

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