A solid reputation is a critical asset for both individuals and enterprises. It requires years to build but can be tarnished in moments through acts of defamation. The UK law provides a specific framework to protect individuals and organisations from defamation.
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If you think you have been the victim of defamation of character, it is vital to understand what steps you can take to deal with it. This article will explore what defamation means, how to recognise defamation and take legal action against it.
What Is Defamation of Character?
Defamation of character occurs when an untrue statement is made about you, your business, or your offerings that can damage your reputation. An important aspect here is that the negative statement must be conveyed to others, not just to you personally.
For example, if someone makes a wrong claim about you or your business directly to you, it doesn’t qualify as defamation since there’s no third-party involvement.
However, suppose the same claim is made in a public setting or through a medium where others can observe it, such as a social media post, a review on a website, or an article. In that case, it then becomes a matter of defamation. This is because the statement can potentially harm your reputation among those who hear or read it.
It’s vital to note that not all negative statements are defamatory. The statement must be untrue and presented as a factual claim rather than an opinion to be defamation. Additionally, there must be evidence that the statement caused or has the potential to cause significant damage to the reputation of the individual or entity targeted.
Types of Defamation
Defamation can be broadly categorised into two main types: libel and slander. Both involve making false statements that can damage someone’s reputation, but they differ in form and the persistence of their presence.
Libel means defamation through a statement in a permanent form. This includes not only written statements in books, newspapers, or posts published on social media but also extends to recorded broadcasts, such as television or radio, as well as stage productions.
The defining characteristic of libel is its fixed nature—the defamatory information is captured in a medium that is stable and can be revisited, which potentially allows the statement to cause harm over a prolonged period.
Slander involves defamation through a transient form of publication. Typically, this involves spoken words, where the defamatory statement is not recorded or written down but is heard by others. Slander can also include non-verbal forms of communication, such as gestures or other conduct, that convey a defamatory message.
Due to its transient nature, slander is often seen as less damaging than libel, as the defamatory statement does not have the same longevity or potential for widespread dissemination.
Both forms of defamation have the common element of a statement being published to a third party, which damages the stature of the individual or entity being defamed. However, due to their differences, the legal approach and the type of evidence required to pursue each claim can vary, with libel traditionally being treated as the more serious of the two, often due to its broader reach and lasting impact.
Proving Defamation: Establishing Your Case
To demonstrate the legitimacy of the defamation case, some specific set of criteria must be met:
- There must be a claim or assertion suggesting that someone has engaged in illegal, unlawful, or improper conduct, often made without concrete proof.
- The claim must be directed clearly towards a specific, identifiable individual or entity.
- The claim must lead others to view the party negatively, thereby harming their standing in the community.
- There must be verifiable evidence of harm or loss that has resulted from the defamation, which can include tangible losses like financial harm or intangible ones like emotional distress.
The Process of a Defamation Claim in the UK
Defamation in the UK is governed based on the Pre-action Protocol for Media and Communications Claims. Here are the general steps in making a claim for defamation:
Drafting a Letter of Claim: The first step in making a defamation claim involves drafting a Letter of Claim. This document should detail the publication containing the defamatory statements, the exact statement, its publication date or spoken context, the claimant’s interpretation of the statement, and how it was inaccurate or unsupportable. It should also illustrate how the statement caused or could cause serious harm to the claimant.
Defendant’s Response: The defendant may accept the claim (fully or partially), request further information, or reject the claim, providing reasons for their decision.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Based on this response, the claimant may consider alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods like mediation or arbitration. If ADR becomes unsuccessful, parties are advised to conduct a ‘stocktake’ to reassess their positions and explore other resolution options.
Proceeding to Court: As a final resort, if the issue remains unresolved, a defamation court claim can be initiated.
Since the process is often complex, expert guidance is recommended. The claimant can seek advice from specialist defamation solicitors to draft the Letter of Claim, provide legal advice on the nuances of litigation, and guide you on how to bring a claim for defamation.
Defamation Claims: Key Defences
In the UK, the Defamation Act of 2013 outlines specific defences available for the two types of defamation cases, which include:
- Truth: Under Section 2(1), proving the substantial truth of the statement can fully defend against defamation. Even if parts of the statement are untrue, if they don’t significantly harm the claimant’s reputation, the defence may still stand. The defendant bears the burden of proof to show the statement’s truthfulness.
- Honest Opinion: Section 3 allows for a defence if the statement is an opinion based on accurate, referenced facts. The opinion must seem reasonable to an honest person and based on facts that existed at the time of publication.
- Public Interest: Section 4 protects statements on matters of public interest, assuming the defendant had a reasonable belief in the need for publication. This defence has evolved, focusing on whether the subject matter is in the public interest rather than responsible journalism practices.
- Reportage: A neutral report of a dispute involving the claimant may be defended under Section 4(3), even without verifying the truth of the statement, as long as the report is impartial.
- Privilege: Certain communications are protected under privilege, which can be absolute (e.g., parliamentary proceedings, judicial reports) or qualified (e.g., employment references, police inquiries). Qualified privilege can be defeated by proving malice on the defendant’s part.
These defences are critical for maintaining the balance between protecting reputations and ensuring freedom of expression.
Do You Want to Sue Someone for Defamation? Contact Us!
Have you or your business suffered harm to reputation from untrue and damaging statements? If you’re considering taking action to address such damage, Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors can provide the expert legal advice and representation you need.
Our civil litigation solicitors have a deep understanding of defamation law in England and Wales and can assist you with all matters relating to defamation claims. We are proficient at handling both individual and business cases, providing advice on the best course of action to take, whether seeking an injunction from the High Court or pursuing a slander claim.
Don’t let defamation go unchallenged. Contact us today to discuss your case with our expert defamation lawyers. Call us on 020 7269 9590 or fill out the form below.
If you believe you’ve been a victim of defamation, seek legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in defamation cases to understand your options.
Yes, you can bring a claim for defamation if the defamatory statement was published on social media, as long as it meets the legal criteria for defamation.
To win a defamation case, you need to prove that the statement was defamatory, was published, refers to you, and has yielded or is likely to cause severe harm to your reputation.
If you win the case, you may be able to claim financial compensation for any loss suffered as a result of the defamation, including legal costs.
A solicitor specialising in defamation cases can help you understand the legal process, gather evidence, and represent you in litigation to seek redress for the harm caused by the defamation.
Our solicitors have a wealth of experience in a wide range of civil litigation areas. We specialise in handling cases such as breach of contract issues, property disputes, professional negligence, navigating construction litigation, intellectual property rights, employment law, and personal injury claims.
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Dr Bernard Andonian – the Co-Founder of Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, is an experienced Immigration Solicitor, former Judge, and recipient of a PhD in Law from the University of West London. He has over four decades of experience practising UK Immigration, Human Rights and Civil Litigation Law. He has served on the Law Society Immigration Law Panel, achieved numerous groundbreaking decisions in higher courts and is featured in the Legal 500’s Hall of Fame.