..journalists will be free to publish material if they act responsibly and in the public interest and they will not be at risk of libel damages even if relevant allegations later prove to be untrue.
That's probably an over-optimistic journalist's take on what I'm sure is a finely-parsed ratio with a few devils in its complex detail. Nonetheless it's a huge change. Unlike Australia, whose High Court has given us a cautious right of political communication, I'm not aware of any previous moves by the UK's highest court to wind back their notorious libel laws in this manner.
The key test was whether a media organisation or newspaper acted fairly and responsibly in gathering and publishing the information, the judges said.
If the reporter and editor did so, and the information was of public importance, then the fact that it contained relevant but defamatory allegations against prominent people would not permit them to recover libel damages.
Assuming the Times have summarised it correctly, there are 3 elements to this defence, and all of them must be satisfied:
1) Acted Fairly;
2) Acted Responsibly; and
3) The issue is of 'Public Importance.'
I'm not that au fait on the intricacies of defo, feel free to correct me, but my reading is that in one fell swoop the UK has come from behind to firmly overtake Australia in the free communication stakes.
Our limited ability to 'discuss' political affairs, law since the mid 1990s, has not prevented a queue of politicians supplementing their super at the expense of the media, including small, dissident media like Crikey. And the new uniform laws aren't expected to radically extend this:
To some extent, the new defences of qualified privilege and honest opinion protect newspapers against claims from public figures; nonetheless, public figures will continue to take offence and threaten action, and this undeniably must have some chilling impact on papers, especially the smaller regional ones which cannot so easily afford to defend, let alone lose, a libel suit.
A side comment by the Law Lords may also flag consequences for other contentious areas like professional negligence:
The ruling also said that judges, with "leisure and hindsight" should not second-guess editorial decisions made in busy newsrooms.
Will that also start to apply to Obstetricians, Paramedics, even Lawyers who frequently find their split-second high-pressure decisions being forensically deconstructed for weeks on end in courtrooms?