The Inforrm blog has an excellent piece on what happens to defamation actions in England & Wales. It reports that while there are between 200 and 300 defamation claims each year, very few are disposed of at hearings, let alone make it to full trial. So what happens to all the others? Inforrm comments:
…. the total of all the cases we have mentioned so far – hearings, statements, apologies and withdrawals – is only 79, or just over a third of the annual figure for libel claims which are commenced. Even assuming that we have missed a number of settlements and apologies, it appears that there a very substantial proportion of issued claims – perhaps around half – which have not been accounted for.
Of course, it is possible that each year a number of claims are simply “left on the court file” with neither party taking action to progress the case – although it can be assumed that if a claimant does nothing for a period of years then a defendant will, eventually, take steps to have the case struck out.
It seems likely that the “unaccounted for” fall into one of three categories
- withdrawn or discontinued without publicity;
- settled without publicity;
- struck out for want of prosecution.
There is at present, no information available as to what percentage of the remaining cases fall into each of these categories. It might be assumed that, in general, successful libel claimants would wish to have their settlements publicised and successful defendants would wish the public to know if a claim was abandoned or struck out.
As part of my PhD research into the effects of law on media systems and publication processes my plan is to try and:
(a) count and categorise some of the “unaccounted for” claims
(b) document other legal interactions between publishers and legal firms that don’t get counted as a claim (so beyond the 200 – 300 cases we know about each year)
Any suggestions and tips welcomed. I can be contacted via jt [dot] townend [at] gmail.com.