Defamation is where something is said to a third party which seriously damages or is likely to seriously damage the claimant’s reputation. This is either libel, where the words complained of are in writing or broadcast on TV and radio or other electronic media, or it is slander which is the spoken word. The main defences to defamation are truth, honest comment, and privilege.
Truth means that the defendant can show that the words complained of were true or substantially true. Honest comment concerns an expression of opinion on a matter of public interest or concern. Although comment, the statement must be based on facts not untruths.
A defence of privilege can be absolute or qualified. Absolute privilege is an absolute defence which covers things like fair, accurate and contemporaneous reports of legal proceedings, statements made in Parliament, statements about criminal behaviour made to the police, and communications between a solicitor and client. This defence can extend to certain professional conduct proceedings.
Qualified privilege is a defence where the defendant has said something that, although untrue, was said when the defendant was acting under some legal, moral or social duty to make the statement, and the person receiving the information had a legitimate interest in receiving it. Examples are statements made in the employment context in disciplinary or performance review procedures or whistle blowing, or statements made by professionals or officials in the course of their duties. A defence of qualified privilege can be overcome by the claimant showing that the defendant was aware of or reckless as to the untruth of the statement, or had an improper motive in making it.
Malicious falsehood is where a false statement is made maliciously by the defendant which either causes or is likely to cause financial loss to the claimant. “Malicious” means that the defendant knew that the statement was false or did not care whether it was true. The statement does not have to cause damage to the claimant’s reputation. The claimant has to prove the statement was false, was made maliciously, and caused or was likely to cause financial loss.
There is generally a one year time limit to commence legal proceedings at court alleging defamation or malicious falsehood which runs from the date the words complained of were first published.
Be careful when considering a claim as they can be very expensive to run. A good chance of success is essential along with the necessary financial arrangements to do so. Such arrangements can include legal expenses insurance, sometimes included within house and building contents insurance, however, such policies often exclude defamation claims from cover. There are usually time limits to apply for the insurance cover, typically 180 days. Another arrangement – the solicitor is willing to act on the claim on a conditional fee agreement (otherwise called “no-win, no-fee”).
Not every untrue statement gives rise to a viable claim. The damage or potential damage has to be serious and you will need the financial means to bring a claim. Legal proceedings should always be seen as the last resort. You should consider whether there are other quicker, cheaper and more effective ways of dealing with the problem.
Consider your own personal situation carefully. If, for example, something damaging was said about you in the employment context, you might be able to bring a grievance or, possibly an employment tribunal claim if the words complained of amounted to discrimination or harassment against you. Many disputes can be resolved by means of a solicitor’s letter.
Pattinson & Brewer solicitors work with precision, focus and dedication and are uncompromising when it comes to protecting individuals’ rights.
If you believe you have a claim please complete our Contact Us form at the top of the page or call 0800 988 077.
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