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First4Lawyers can help you take, or defend against, defamation actions

Defamatory statements can be damaging to a person’s livelihood and personally distressing, but you can take action to protect your name.

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What is defamation?

Defamation is a false statement (written, visual or verbal) published to a third party with the intent of causing serious harm to an individual's reputation.  It is covered by the Defamation Act 2013.

Lord Atkin described defamation during the case of Sim v Stretch in 1935, when he summed it up as: "a statement which tends to lower the plaintiff in the minds of right-thinking members of society generally, and in particular to cause him to be regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear and disesteem...".  This summary still applies today.

If you believe the statement made against you, and published to a third party, has damaged your reputation, then you may have a claim.

However, if the statement was merely insulting, vulgar or offensive but did not harm your reputation, then a court would not rule in your favour.

What are the different types of defamation?

There are two main types of defamation:

  1. Slander
    This is a defamatory statement that is announced in a temporary way, such as being spoken in public, to damage your reputation.
  2. Libel
    If the statement was published in a more permanent way, such as writing – either in print or online – then the person who made the statement may be guilty of a type of defamation known as libel.
    In most libel cases, the person responsible for publishing the defamatory statement will be held liable for it. However, there are an increasing number of cases involving defamatory statements published online where the person who wrote the statement is held to account, rather than the person responsible for the website on which it appeared (although the latter does still occur).

 

Who can make a claim for defamation?

Individuals, companies and business can claim defamation, however unincorporated businesses and public bodies, such as councils, cannot.

Individuals have to prove 'serious harm' to reputation; whereas businesses must prove serious financial loss or damage.

The case must be brought within a year of the statement being published. Defamation cases do sometimes go to trial, but are more often settled out of court.

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What happens in a defamation action?

If found guilty of defamation, a court can award damages to compensate the claimant for any suffering they endured. This is known as general damages, but you could also have to pay special damages to compensate for any loss of earnings or potential loss of business suffered by the claimant.

The court will often pass an injunction to prevent the defamatory act from reoccurring. Breaching an injunction can lead to a prison sentence.

What are the defences if I'm accused of defamation?

If a claim of defamation is made against you, there is a defence if:

  1. You can prove the statement you made was an honestly held, non-malicious opinion that can be justified.
  2. The statement was privileged, for example if it was made during parliamentary proceedings.
  3. You can prove it was made out of a moral or social duty, such as it being a matter of public interest.
  4. You are the owner of a website and can prove you did not post the content yourself. There is no defence, however, if you can't identify the person who posted the statement; or the claimant made a complaint to you about the online content.

Defences are a complex area, so you should seek expert legal advice before building a defence case.

I need legal advice about defamation - what should I do next?

First4Lawyers can talk you through the process of making or defending a defamation action. Our legal advisors will discuss your individual requirements with you and allocate you a solicitor who is a specialist in this area.  Get in touch for an free, no-obligation chat.

Get in touch today to discuss your requirements 08005677866

How to guides

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