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What are your legal options if someone publishes negative information about you that’s untrue? From both a personal and commercial perspective this kind of material can have a hugely negative impact. At Nath Solicitors in London we have been advising claimants and defendants in defamation cases for more than thirty years. It’s an area of our work that has seen a definite uptick in recent years. We think this is largely down to the proliferation of social media channels and online publications. This new media gives individuals the opportunity to instantly publish material online capable of reaching significant audiences. Without the checks and balances that existed when publication was restricted to traditional media there is a greater possibility that defamatory material night be published. Here we consider:

  • How the Defamation Act 2013 changed the law relating to defamation
  • The requirements for a successful defamation claim
  • How we can help you in a claim for defamation

Background To The 2013 Defamation Act

When we look at defamation cases we need to remember that the law always seeks to find a balance between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect the reputation or good name of individuals and businesses. Historically the law developed in a way that protected reputation more than the right to freedom of expression. The Defamation Act 2013 sought to redress the balance. In particular Section 1 of the Act specifies that a statement won’t be defamatory unless it had caused – or was likely to cause serious harm to the claimant’s reputation.

Bringing A Successful Defamation Claim

The first time the Supreme Court examined Section 1 of the Defamation Act was in Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd and Evening Standard Ltd [2019]. The case involved articles that appeared in the Independent and other UK newspapers about a Mr Lachaux, a French national. The articles made clear allegations against Mr Lachaux, including that he had abused his wife. Mr Lachaux argued the articles were defamatory, and that they met the Section 1 test of serious harm.

On the facts of the case the Supreme Court decided that the articles did meet the Section 1 definition: serious harm had been caused to Mr Lachaux’s reputation. But the court emphasised that people who now claim defamation must be able to show they have suffered serious harm, and to do this they need to produce evidence of such harm. Mr Lachaux had done this. It’s no longer sufficient (as it was before the 2013 Act) to rely on the ‘inherent tendency’ of the complained of words to cause harm. So while the claimant in Lachaux was successful the case nevertheless makes it more difficult to bring a successful claim for defamation. That’s because it’s no longer enough to rely in the meaning of the words a claimant objects to. A claimant must also explain how the statements have caused harm and produce evidence to show the extent of the harm.

Claimants should be able to establish harm by demonstrating:

  • The size and characteristics of the audience to whom the defamatory statements were communicated
  • The quality and reputation of the publication in which the words appear
  • The nature of the claimant’s reputation before the publication of the complained of content

Subsequent cases show the importance of claimants being able to establish the harmful impact of the words complained of. In Lachaux the articles appeared in national newspapers with huge readership. It was easier to show harm. In Yavuz v Tesco Stores Ltd [2019] on the other hand there was an allegation of theft, and the judge agreed that such a statement could cause serious harm. But because the allegation was only heard by a tiny number of people the claimant couldn’t establish that serious harm had actually been caused. The defamation claim failed as a result.

How We Can Help

It’s rarely straightforward to establish defamation, particularly in light of the more stringent provisions of the 2013 Defamation Act. When you consult us you’ll know early on whether or not a claim for defamation is worth pursuing. If you are defending a claim we can quickly spot weaknesses in the case against you. Is there a proper defence for example? Can we get a summary judgment for you so that you obtain costs against your opponent and resolve the matter quickly? These are just some of the ways we can ensure you don’t spend unnecessary time or money engaged in unnecessary defamation litigation.

To get in touch call director Shubha Nath at Nath Solicitors on 0203 983 8278 or contact the firm online.


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