"The right to speak freely and debate issues without fear of censure is a vital cornerstone of a democratic society," said Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke. "In recent years though, the increased threat of costly libel actions has begun to have a chilling effect on scientific and academic debate, and investigative journalism."British defamation law is notable in that when suing for defamation in the British courts, the plaintiff does not have to necessarily prove that the defamation caused them damage, but instead merely that a reasonable person would think less of them after hearing or reading the libelous claim. Further, the English approach places the burden of proving that no damage has been caused on the defendant.
This differs from the American approach to defamation, which since New York Times Co. v. Sullivan in 1964 has required the plaintiff to prove damage, unless, in the case of a public figure, that there was either actual malice or reckless negligence on the part of the writer or publisher of the defamatory statement.
The Canadian approach to defamation has generally followed the British model, but Canadian courts have never been as friendly to defamatory claims as British courts have been, perhaps in part due to cultural difference, but also due to a certain willingness by Canadian courts to find defenses for the tort of defamation.
If British defamation law is indeed revised to protect greater freedom of speech, this could certainly have repercussions on Canadian defamation law. Were the Canadian system to follow British reforms, Canada might well become one of the world's freest-speech jurisdictions, if we ultimately were to combine a looser libel standard with our existing defamation defenses. Alternately, British reform might borrow wholesale from existing Canadian defenses, leaving our system relatively untouched. Only time will tell, however.