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 2016 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  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|