Defamation is the catch-all term that covers both libel and slander. Libel refers to lasting forms of publication e.g. in print or online and a libel claim can be brought where an individual can prove that harm was caused or is likely to have been caused. Slander refers to more temporary actions than libel, e.g. spoken words or gestures.

In order to bring a claim you must be able to show the following:

  • The words used are defamatory of you. To be defamatory, the words must have caused or be likely to cause serious harm to your reputation. Various case law has provided guidance for what constitutes a defamatory statement: does the statement lower you in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally? Is the statement likely to affect you adversely in the estimation of reasonable people generally?
  • The words have been published, by the potential defendant or under the responsibility of the potential defendant, to a third party. Publication includes in books, newspapers, on television, online via websites or social media.

The limitation period for defamation claims is one year, with the period beginning on the date of the publication of the words. The court has discretion to disapply this limitation period in certain circumstances.

The two main defences to defamation claims are where it can be shown that the words used were substantially true or an honest opinion. It is also a potential defence where the publication of the words is a matter of public interest. A claim brought based on statement that is covered by absolute privilege, such as statements made in court, will fail.

A few of the available remedies in defamation claims are as follows:

  • Compensatory damages can be awarded to the Claimant in order to remedy the distress and any loss caused by the defamation.
  • Exemplary damages can be awarded in order to punish the individual who made the defamatory statements, although this is only in exceptional circumstances.
  • The court can order an injunction, restraining the Defendant from publishing the defamatory statement (or similar defamatory statements) again.
  • The court can make an order which requires the removal of the statement or to cease distribution of the material containing the statement. 
  • Where an innocent mistake has been made, the Defendant can make an offer of amends in writing and must offer to make a correction, an apology and to pay the Claimant compensation and reasonable legal costs.

If you are looking for advice regarding bringing or defending a defamation claim, please contact us on 0203 440 8000 and ask to speak to a member of our dispute resolution team.

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