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What is the Single Publication Rule in Defamation Law?

Defamation law is all about finding the right balance between freedom of expression on the one hand and protecting reputations on the other. The Defamation Act, 2013 was an attempt in some respects to dilute the existing common law rules that were seen by many to be skewed in favour of protecting the reputation of individuals at the expense of freedom of expression. We’ve looked previously at how the courts apply Section 8 of the Defamation Act in the context of potentially defamatory material that is published repeatedly. Here we look again at Section 8 and how the courts apply the so-called Single Publication Rule that  section enshrines, highlighting the limited leeway judges have to depart from the rule.

If you would like further information in defamation law and how to bring or defend a claim, contact our director Shubha Nath on 0203 983 8278. You can also read about some of our recent defamation work.

Why do we need a Single Publication Rule?

The Single Publication Rule means that someone who publishes defamatory material won’t be exposed to a legal claim every time the material is accessed or viewed – on different online channels for example. When the Single Publication Rule became law, it stopped someone from effectively mounting multiple defamation claims over the same material.  Section 8 clarifies that when further material is published that is substantially the same as the original material the one-year time limit for bringing a legal claim begins on the date of the original publication.

Of course a fresh claim is possible (i.e. the limitation period starts again) if the offending material is published by someone else or the way it’s published is materially different from the way it was published originally.

The Single Publication Rule was examined in detail in the case of Hemming v Poulton (2023) discussed below.

Hemming v Poulton and another 2023

The factual background related to historic allegations of child abuse. In an interview about the historic case, the defendant, a journalist, made allegedly defamatory statements about the claimant, a former MP, in an interview that was subsequently published.

The interview contained the following exchange which formed the basis of the defamation claim:

What I can say to you is, X came out several years ago, I think her first interview was, was Sky News. I know X, I’ve talked to her several times. And she came out and she was saying that she had been abused as a child in – at Cannock Chase and she said it was an MP – and she never named the MP, she never said the M… – it was actually John Hemming who outed himself, on his own blog.

When a claim for defamation was brought, the defendant responded by posting further statements on a fundraising website. These were linked to a Twitter feed along with additional retweeted posts. Following this, the defendant posted further material via a blog posted on her website.

The case was a long running one and encompassed multiple applications and hearings. For the purposes of this article and the Single Publication Rule what’s key is how the claimant sought to expand his original defamation case out from the first publication (the interview mentioned above), to include the later published statements on Twitter and the defendant’s blog – even though the limitation period under Section 8 had expired.

To succeed in these broader claims and get around the Single Publication Rule the claimant would have to establish that the subsequent publications were so materially different from the first published statement that they could be considered new publications and that the limitation period should be disapplied. While courts have the power to do this under s32A of the Limitation Act, it is well established that it can only do so in exceptional circumstances.

Limitation Act S32A: What is Exceptional?

While the discretion under s32A to disapply the one-year tine limit for defamation claims is a wide one, unique factors apply to defamation actions which affect how the discretion is used. If the purpose of a defamation action is vindication of a claimant’s reputation, then it must follow that a claimant who wishes to restore his or her hard-earned reputation will want to do as quickly as possible –and will want his action to be heard as soon as possible. This view goes a long way to explaining the uniquely short limitation period for defamation actions and why the disapplication of the limitation period in libel actions is often described as exceptional.

In the Hemming case the court held that it would not exercise the s32A discretion and the single publication rule would continue to apply. In reaching this conclusion the court decided that:

  • Since the subsequent publications were similar in message to the initial publication, the claimant had no need to rely on them to bolster his claim
  • Interestingly the court questioned why the claimant had not previously raised the subsequent publications as possible defamation claims when he had been aware of them for at least a year prior to this hearing and despite previous court applications in the case
  • The additional time and costs which would be incurred in the process of these subsequent claims would be disproportionate to the importance of the claims
  • The claim for the initial publication was deemed sufficient for the claimant’s case and disapplying the limitation period for the subsequent publications was unnecessary


Individuals seeking to make a claim in defamation should be aware of when the first publication of that material took place. They will usually be restricted to a limitation period of one year from that date to commence legal proceedings. Should they attempt to commence action once the period expires, their claim may be struck out and they will more than likely face significant cost consequences. While the courts do have the discretion to disapply the limitation period as we have seen, this is an exceptional discretion which courts are often reluctant to apply.

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For advice on defamation and reputation management please contact Shubha Nath at Nath Solicitors on 0203 983 8278 or contact us by emailing us at




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