This is a specialised area and fully contested proceedings are expensive to pursue and should not to be undertaken lightly. With the correct analysis at the outset, it is possible to take a view on the likelihood of success.
Libel and Slander
Defamation is the publication of an oral or written statement to a third party which damages the reputation of the Claimant. If in permanent form – in writing, pictures or by media broadcast – that is libel. If spoken or by gestures, that is slander.
Libel is actionable on the part of an individual without proof of actual financial loss whereas slander is not, save in certain circumstances, for example imputation of a crime or concerning an individual’s trade/profession. The statement must have caused or be likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the Claimant. In the case of a corporate Claimant, serious financial loss must have been caused or be a likely consequence.
Companies May Bring Proceedings
Companies, individuals and firms can bring proceedings. The estate of a deceased person cannot as the right to bring this type of claim ceases on death.
There is a tight time limit in which to bring a claim, being 12 months from the date of publication. It is therefore important to seek prompt advice.
Requirements of a Successful Claim
In order to succeed, it is necessary to prove that the statement:
- is defamatory – for example suggests the Claimant is dishonest, guilty of a crime, incompetent or corrupt
- refers to the Claimant
- has been published to a third party (not just to the Claimant)
Defences to a Claim
There are a range of defences available to this type of claim:
- Honest opinion
- Publication on a matter of public interest – responsible journalism
- Absolute privilege – for example for statements made in Court/parliament where freedom of speech is a matter of public interest
- Qualified privilege where, for convenience and welfare, freedom of speech is permitted. However, if the statement was motivated by malice (for example made with careless regard to the truth) then this defence cannot be sustained.
In a claim for malicious falsehood a greater burden of proof rests on the Claimant. The words must be untrue but not necessarily defamatory. The publication must be malicious and actual financial loss caused as a consequence.
Examples of cases in which we have acted:
- Defence of claim brought by a teacher arising from a reference
- Accountant wrongly accused of deception offences
- University lecturer whose professional conduct was called into question
- Members of a charitable board whose competence was attacked
- Editor of a local parish magazine in defence of the publication
- Agricultural chemical company whose products were challenged
- University professor with regard to material broadcast on a television network and YouTube
- District Councillor concerning comments made to the local press by a fellow Councillor.