By Aaron Humes: Breaking Belize News (BBN) and other media houses have been provided, unofficially, a copy of what appears to be the final draft of the Defamation Bill, 2022, promulgated per its short title “to repeal the Libel and Defamation Act and to make new provisions relating to the tort of defamation; and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
Curiously, we know of no direct consultation with any member of the free press in Belize prior to the creation of the Bill. When it is taken to the House of Representatives and read for the first time, it will be sent to an appropriate Committee of the House which will consider it and likely schedule public hearings for additional comment.
The bill is three times as long in its number of clauses as the original Libel and Defamation Act, Chapter 169 of the Laws of Belize most recently revised in 2020, which it seeks to repeal.
Among the critical changes is the elimination of separate torts of libel and slander, defined as written and printed material (the former) and orally spoken or broadcast material (the latter). Though there is now a single tort of defamation, the ground it covers is far wider – not only words, but images such as photographs, maps, graphs, plans, drawings and audio recordings, and film.
Things that can be held to be defamatory now include advertisements, reports, and published articles, and the scope of persons covered now include print and electronic services ranging from radio and television to Internet news sources such as BBN.
The new law among other things codifies the right to make amends whether by apology or other means; a time limit for filing a claim (two years from the date of publication); the right to have the court issue a correction order for republishing of material that is considered defamatory, but was not intentionally or maliciously shared or reposted; the common-law defences to defamation, including truth, fair comment, qualified privilege in matters discussed publicly or openly; and related provisions.
Attorney General Magali Marin-Young has told Channel 5 News that the new Act simplifies process and procedure and allows for chances to correct the public record.
We await the sure-to-be robust public discussion surrounding this Bill whenever it comes to the National Assembly.