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Defamation – Libel and Slander

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A defamatory statement is one that lowers a person’s character in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally or exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt.

If a defamatory statement is communicated or published it can lead to an action being brought for either libel or slander depending upon the means of communication. The remedies are slightly different in each case but the defences to both are similar.

As traditional forms of communication have given way to mass electronic communication the opportunity for people and businesses defame or be defamed have grown exponentially.

The Difference Between Libel and Slander
A defamatory statement made in writing, printing or other permanent form (such as in film or digital recording) communicated to someone other than the claimant is actionable libel. With a claim for libel there is an assumption that damage has been caused to the claimant. Unlike slander, libel can also be actionable under the criminal law although the requirements are slightly different.

If a defamatory statement is made orally then it is actionable in slander. Slander does not assume that damage has been caused to the claimant. It therefore generally requires that there is also proof of damage for a claim to succeed.

Who Can Claim Damages?
If an individual wishes to claim damages under the libel laws they must be able to show that the defamatory statement was made against them personally. This requirement is based on the premise that the laws are there to protect reputation.

Similarly companies or other corporate bodies may also claim damages for defamation but the libel or slander must have been directed against the company itself. A company cannot claim for statements made about its employees as individuals, the defamation must reflect on the company itself.

There are a number of defences to libel or slander which include:
  • Justification – the statements were true
  • Absolute Privilege – such as in the administration of justice, reporting of court proceedings, Parliamentary proceedings and affairs of state
  • Qualified Privilege – such as communications to a limited audience where the person has a duty to make them, communications in the public interest or fair and accurate reports of proceedings
  • Honest comment – such as opinions on matters of public interest

It should be noted that the defences of qualified privilege and honest comment can both be defeated if the claimant can show that the defamatory statement was made maliciously.

If you have any questions about the law relating to defamation Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can assist you. If you need advice or would like more information please contact James Crighton via e-mail or by phone on 0207 611 4848.