Defamation | Part 1

In today’s online, interconnected world, reputations that have taken years to establish can be damaged irreparably within minutes. The consequences are costly, from lost revenue to lost opportunities and embarrassment. It is important to act quickly to minimise damage to your reputation and we are here to help.

What is defamation?

Defamation is the publication to a third party of a statement about you that has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to your reputation. The defamatory publication will either be a libel or a slander:

  • Libel is a defamatory publication in permanent form. This usually means it is written (newspapers, books, online publications and those appearing on TV or radio).
  • Slander applies to temporary publications, usually spoken words or even physical gestures.

For slander, it is normally necessary to prove actual loss. For compensation in libel, you will need to show publication of a statement (to at least one other person), in which you are identified or identifiable and which has caused or be likely to cause ‘serious harm’ to your reputation.

What about social media?

Libel law covers all written publications, including transient publications like Twitter and Facebook. Website operators are given certain protections under defamation law, if they were not responsible for publishing what has been posted on their website.

What is ‘serious harm’?

The Defamation Act 2013 introduced the ‘serious harm’ test. In a defamation claim, the burden is on the claimant to prove a statement has been read and serious harm suffered. This also applies to company’s bringing libel claims – they must show the statement has caused or is likely to cause serious harm in the form of serious financial loss.

Serious harm imposes a high threshold and is still subject to development in case law. In the recent case of Alexander-Theodotou & Other v Kounis (heard at the High Court on 22 March 2019),  Justice Warby (presiding judge of the Media and Communications List) struck out the claimant’s claim concerning a webinar and Facebook post that she argued caused serious harm to her reputation and was likely to cause her businesses to suffer serious financial loss. Justice Warby found that no material harm was done to her reputation.

Can you claim for libel in England and Wales if you are based outside the jurisdiction?

You may have a claim for defamation if the publication took place here and you can prove serious harm to your reputation here.

What is the time limit?

A claim for libel or slander must be brought within one year of the date of publication. For material that continues to be published online, the countdown starts to run from the date the material was first published.

If genuine reputational harm has been suffered, the law expects you to act quickly and courts are unlikely to extend time, without exceptional circumstances. Get in touch today on 0203 146 3549 / e-mail: [email protected] if you think you have a claim. Do check our second article next week, where we explore who is liable, what remedies are available and potential defences.

Disclaimer

All our articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information provided.

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