Section 22 of The Jamaican Constitution protects citizens’ freedom of expression, so long as said opinion doesn’t ruin another person’s reputation.
Basis Of Jamaican Defamation Laws
Jamaica’s defamation laws date back to both England’s Limitation Act of 1623 and Commonwealth Statutes passed in 1851. In 1961, the island nation passed The Defamation Act, which was then amended in 1963 and 1969. Essentially, Jamaica’s defamation statutes are very similar to plaintiff-friendly slander and libel laws in countries like the United Kingdom and Canada.
General Defamation Rules In Jamaica and Their Impact
In general, there is no cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded in a Jamaican defamation case, which inadvertently acts as a deterrent to free speech (i.e., journalists and media outlets fear high-dollar awards, and therefore refrain from engaging in true investigative journalism). Additionally, in some suits, the plaintiff does not have to prove special damages, only that their reputation was tarnished.
Truth and fair comment are legitimate defenses; moreover, the Defamation Act includes apology provisions for those who innocently defame another person. However, many slander and libel trials are decided by a jury – a jury that doesn’t always follow the letter of the law, but instead their gut instinct. As such, publishing an amends is often seen as an admission of guilt, which is contrary to the statute, which states that if someone unintentionally defames another, he or she can offer an amends by publishing a correction or apology. If said amends is accepted, than no proceeding of libel shall continue.
Statute of Limitations In Jamaican Defamation Cases
Currently, the statute of limitations in Jamaica is a whopping 6 years for cases wherein the plaintiff can prove special damages and two years for cases wherein the plaintiff cannot prove special damages. The six year marker is derived directly from England’s Limitation Act of 1623.
The Hugh Small Committee For Libel Reform
In 2007, Hugh Small was appointed to head up a committee to look at the country’s libel laws and provide reform recommendations. The Small committee came up with 13 suggestions, the primary one being decreasing the statute of limitations from 6 years to 2 years across the board.
Jamaica is eager to update their libel laws, in part because of the U.S. SPEECH Act. Passed in 2010, the SPEECH Act aims to protect free speech rights of American citizens in foreign jurisdictions. As such, like many nations with a commonwealth law tradition, Jamaicans want to ensure that they can effectively sue individuals in the U.S. who defame them. In addition, there is a big push to decriminalize slander and libel in the country.
According to reports, Jamaica is set to reform their defamation laws in 2013.
May 2013 Update: It appears that the island nation is poised to change their defamation laws soon. Representatives from both sides are arguing the merits of repealing the nation’s criminal libel law.