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Government of Wales Act 2006

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Section 42: Defamation

196.This section replicates the provisions in section 41 of the Scotland Act 1998, rather than the more detailed provisions in section 77 of the Government of Wales Act 1998, which reflected the fact that the Assembly as a unitary corporate body had both legislative and executive functions. The protection afforded to the newly constituted Assembly by this section is intended to be the same as that afforded to the legislative and scrutinising arm of the current Assembly by the 1998 Act.

197.This section confers absolute privilege for the purposes of the law of defamation on any statement made in Assembly proceedings and on the publication of any statement under the authority of the Assembly.

198.The provision is intended to ensure that Assembly members are free to debate and the Assembly is free to report on matters of public interest without fear of an action for defamation being raised.

199.The privilege of freedom of speech is part of the law and custom of the UK Parliament. It is also reflected in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1688-9 which confers on “proceedings in Parliament” protection from being “impeached or questioned” in any court. No similar general privilege is conferred upon proceedings in the Assembly. However, this section and section 43 protect statements made in such proceedings and their publication against proceedings for defamation and contempt of court.

200.The regulation-making power in section 42(2) allows the Welsh Ministers to specify how it may be proved conclusively in legal proceedings that a statement was made in Assembly proceedings or published under the authority of the Assembly, and therefore attracts absolute privilege – for example, by the Clerk of the Assembly providing certification of the fact. The making of the regulations is subject to Assembly affirmative procedure.

201.The Act contains other provisions which make provision in relation to defamation.

202.The amendments made to the Defamation Act 1952 and the Defamation Act (Northern Ireland) 1955 by paragraphs 5 and 6 of Schedule 10 limit privilege in relation to defamation at elections of Assembly members.

203.Paragraph 40 of Schedule 10 amends paragraph 11(1)(c) of Schedule 1 to the Defamation Act 1996 to provide that the reports and statements of any commission, tribunal, committee or person appointed for the purposes of any inquiry by a Welsh Ministers or by the Counsel General attract qualified privilege subject to explanation or contradiction.

204.Paragraph 19 of Schedule 10 amends section 26(1) of the Public Order Act 1986 to protect reports of Assembly proceedings against offence under Part 3 of the 1986 Act relating to racial hatred.

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