From Defamation Act: Legal professional Normal to Finish Crippling Funds –

Australian defamation laws are being changed to end massive payouts, clear the country's congested courthouses, and give journalists the opportunity to report more freely.

The country's attorneys general met on Monday where they passed far-reaching legislative reforms that will help bring it up to date with other countries.

Attorney General Mark Speakman said Australian defamation laws were enacted before social media and online reporting came into existence and have not been updated since 2005, although the way things are shared online has changed rapidly.

"Social media has exploded minor cases of minor personal issues and clogged the courts with costly litigation that is disproportionate to the actual complaint," he said.

"These reforms will bring defamation laws into the modern age and improve the balance between protecting reputation and freedom of speech."

The reforms set a cap on compensation for non-economic losses, reducing the likelihood of high payouts, and journalists can benefit from a public interest defense similar to that in the UK.

This includes a new charge for anyone wishing to sue a publication to prove actual or likely to cause serious damage to their reputation. The limitation period for online publications is measured at the time an article was uploaded, not the last time it was downloaded, and applicants must report concerns with reasonable time to respond before taking legal action can.

Mr Speakman said the reforms would mean a "generational change" but there was more to be done.

In the second phase of this change, the attorneys general will review the responsibilities and liability of digital platforms for defamatory material posted online.

The Attorney General's Office decided on Monday to design a national system to deal with the online footprint of a person who has died or is considered unable to make their own decisions.

These records include social media accounts, but also things like online bank accounts.

The Council also discussed a move to increase the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, but did not take a decision on Monday.

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