Ursula Cheer Professor University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Ursula Cheer graduated with Honours from the University of Canterbury Law School, New Zealand, in 1982 and practised as a lawyer for six years. She then moved to Wellington as a speech writer to the Minister of Justice and later became legal advisor to the Prime Minister. In 1989, she moved to the United Kingdom and spent a year completing her Master’s degree at Cambridge University, in which her thesis was on Censorship. Appointment in the UK civil service followed, as a Senior Legal Advisor to the Lord Chancellor, in the UK Law Commission. In 1994, she returned to New Zealand, where she took up an appointment as a Lecturer in Law at Canterbury University. She completed her PhD in 2009, on the possible chilling effects of defamation laws on media in New Zealand. She specialises in Media Law and is co-author, together with Emeritus Professor John Burrows, QC, of the leading text, Media Law in New Zealand (6th edn, LexisNexis 2010). She was appointed a Professor at the University of Canterbury in 2012.

The burgeoning of freedom of expression in New Zealand defamation law

Ursula Cheer will speak to her chapter which examines the most significant recent development in New Zealand defamation law as an example of the burgeoning effects of freedom of expression enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights. The focus of the discussion is the generic qualified privilege defence which currently protects limited forms of political discussion against defamation claims. The chapter suggested that the defence appears to be developing into a broader public interest defence and should be following this path. The presentation will also update the chapter with a brief discussion of more recent decisions from the High Court indicating judicial willingness to develop a public interest defence. It is apparent there is disagreement about how the law should develop. In particular, it appears it may be more difficult to establish there is a public interest defence for comments made on online single issue discussion forums.