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Jamaican Parliament Passes Bill to Abolish Criminal Defamation

Above: Jamaica’s Parliament

By the Caribbean Journal staff

The Jamaican House of Representatives has passed a new Defamation Act that will streamline the country’s laws on defamation.

The act will abolish the distinction between libel and slander and establish a cause of action called “defamation,” according to Attorney General Patrick Atkinson.

The bill also abolishes criminal libel, and sets a statute of limitations meaning lawsuits for defamation must be filed within two years, replacing an existing limit of six years.

The government said the bill also had a provision removing liability on the media if it “it innocently disseminates information from a reputable source, and also replaces the defence of justification with the defence of truth.”

Opposition Spokesperson on National Security and Justice Delroy Chuck said in a government release that the bill made it very clear that once a publication is truthful and fair or if it is qualified in certain circumstances that [the media] have freedom of expression.”

The island’s previous Defamation Act was passed in 1961, a year before independence.

“What tremendous news for press freedom in Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the world over,” said International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie, in a statement. “I want to congratulate the Jamaican Parliament for staying the course and removing criminal defamation from the country’s law books.”

The IPI said the move made Jamaica the first independent Caribbean country to have “have no criminal defamation laws,” including those covering seditious libel.
“Grenada abolished criminal libel in 2012, but maintains laws criminalising seditious libel and insult of the monarch,” the IPI said.

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