Civil Litigation – What You Need to Know About Defamation

PUBLISHED 04.06.19

 

In today’s society of quick paced news, video-blogging, social media and instant messaging, defamation cases are more often in the public eye. Comments published on social media sites can be seen openly by thousands of people and some of these comments can do serious damage to a reputation almost instantly.

 

What is Defamation?

Defamation is defined under the Defamation Act 2013 (the “Act”) as the publication of a statement that has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.

If the claimant is a business the statement must have caused or is likely to cause the claimant financial loss.

The Act seeks to recompense for damage to the claimant’s reputation and can be divided into two areas, slander and libel.

 

What is the difference between slander and libel?

Slander is the publication of a defamatory statement which is temporary, i.e. a spoken statement. Libel is the publication of a defamatory statement in a permanent form, i.e. published in a book or online.

 

What compensation is available for Defamation?

If it is found by a court that a claimant’s reputation has been damaged by defamatory statements, under the Act the court may award:

  •  Damages – which compensates the victim for the harm caused by the defamation and to fix their damaged reputation; and/or
  •  An injunction –which prevents further publication of the defamatory statement.

 

Limitation

A claimant may bring a claim within one year from the date the defamatory statement appeared. It is paramount that an individual brings a claim as soon as they discover the statement.

 

Defences

There are two common defences to defamation:

  • Honest opinion – if the defendant can prove that the statement was an expression of their own honest opinion. If the defendant is able to prove that the facts of the statement are substantially true and therefore substantiated their opinion within the statement, the claim will not succeed.
  • Truth – If the statement contains true facts, the statement cannot be defamatory in nature. This was held in Irving v Penguin Books Ltd [2000] where the claimant was seeking damages over statements within a book that he claimed generated public hatred towards him. The claim was found to be invalid because the comments within the book were substantially true and therefore could not be defamatory.

 

How can we help?

If you would like more information or advice about defamation, speak to a member of our litigation team today:

Craig Smith – Solicitor / Head of General Civil Litigation Department

Sarah Treliving – Litigation Executive