Scots defamation law would be reformed in line with recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission, if a bill just introduced to the Scottish Parliament becomes law.

The Defamation and Malicious Publication Bill would simplify and modernise defamation law, set out the first definition in Scots law of what constitutes a defamatory statement, and attempt to strike a balance between protecting someone’s reputation and freedom of expression.

The bill would recognise a defence of publication on a matter of public interest, and provide that action can only be brought if the published statement caused (or would be likely to cause) serious harm to the reputation of the person making a complaint. Common law defences such as truth, or fair comment, would be replaced in statutory form.

A scheme is set out for offers to make amends, which if accepted would bar separate court proceedings.

Malicious statements causing harm to business interests, or casting doubt as to title to property, or criticising the quality of another's assets to their financial loss, would become actionable; but the common law of verbal injury would be abolished. There is provision for a statement to be read in open court as part of a settlement of proceedings.

The bill also seeks to prevent defamation actions being brought against “secondary publishers” – those other than the authors, editors or commercial publishers of material containing defamatory statements – with certain exceptions, for example where the harm caused by publication is materially increased because it has been republished to a much larger audience.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham commented: "The existing laws covering defamation are spread across several statutes and areas of common law, some of which were decided more than 100 years ago.

"The widespread use of social media today means there is the increased potential for unfair damage to reputation. Defamation law can also potentially impact a far greater number of people than a generation ago.

"This bill brings the law up to date and simplifies it in key areas, while striking an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and the protection from unfair damage to reputation."

Click here to access the bill and related papers.