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A Guide to Defamation


What is defamation?

Defamation arises where a statement referring to an identifiable legal person (an individual/groups of individuals or business) is published to a third party that lowers people’s view or opinion of that person which has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the identified person’s reputation. 

There are two types of defamation:

  1. Libel
  2. Slander

What is the difference between defamation libel and slander?

Defamation is the umbrella term for libel and slander. 

Unlike slander which is in transient form, libel refers to a defamatory statement that has been made in permanent form, such as written words.

Slander is defamation made in a transient way, usually verbally, by spoken words which are defamatory. It can also extend to other forms of expression that are not permanently recorded.

How do I sue for defamation, libel and slander?

The Defamation Act 2013 (effective on 1 January 2014) codifies the common law principles and statue on defamation.

Firstly, the claimant must be able to prove that defamation has occurred. 

Secondly, the claimant must be able to demonstrate that the statement in question was made by the defendant and that it has caused serious harm to the claimant’s reputation. 

There must be a clear causal link between the defamation and the harm caused to the claimant’s reputation. When assessing the effect of the statement, the words used in the statement by the defendant will be judged on their plain face, by their ordinary meaning and the normal standards of society.

To bring a claim for slander, the claimant must show that there has been a financial loss suffered as a result of the defamatory statement if they wish to claim damages. With regard to libel, it is possible to be awarded damages without suffering a financial loss.

If a company wishes to sue for defamation, under the ‘serious harm’ requirement, they will need to show that serious financial loss was suffered as a result of the defamation.

The UK Court may not have jurisdiction to hear a libel claim if the defendant resides outside of the EU, Norway, Switzerland or Denmark unless the UK Court is satisfied that England and Wales is the most appropriate venue. 

Under the new law, trial by jury in libel cases is no longer presumed, but requires an order of the Court at its discretion.  

What are the defences to defamation?

There are a number of defences with regards to defamation which are as follows:

  • Statutory defences are available under the 2013 Act : the statement was true and an honest opinion. It is for the defendant to prove this;
  • The statement was not defamatory;
  • The statement was on a matter of public interest and the defendant reasonably believed it to be in the public interest;
  • In respect of slander, no loss was caused;
  • The defendant did not make or publish the statement (i.e. some protection to operators of websites if they have procedure to enable the complainant to resolve disputes with the statement maker);
  • The defendant innocently disseminated the information, for example, they were simply the printer of the offending material. This does not extend to an editor or publisher but may be used as a defence by Internet Service Providers;
  • The statement did not refer to the claimant; and
  • The statement was privileged, for example, made during court proceedings or within an employee reference.

Can I make a claim if neither me or my business is mentioned by name?

If you are looking to bring a claim for defamation and your name or business isn’t explicitly mentioned in the defamatory statement, then the claimant must be able to demonstrate that the words used in the statement were clearly about them or their business, even though he or she or they are not explicitly named. There must be a nickname or a clearly identifiable description used, so that the reader knows to exactly whom the statement refers without the claimant’s actual name being used.

Legal Advice

Defamation can lead to serious effects on someone’s personal or business reputation.  You should seek legal advice whether or not there are sufficient merits to bring a claim. Pre-publication advice may also be necessary if you want to know whether certain statements may face a defamation claim. 

Should you require any additional information in relation to Personal Defamation to Business Defamation then please get in touch at [email protected] or call us on 0330 127 8888 and our team will be more than happy to help.


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