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Defending Your Professional Reputation

By 5th December 2014 February 3rd, 2020 No Comments

Defamation solicitors at Taylor Hampton explain how you can protect your professional reputation

Reputation is the cornerstone of an individual’s business, trade or profession. Developed over the course of several years, or even decades, it can be lost within the space of a few days across a range of media platforms.

Dr Serrano Garcia’s recent victory in his libel action against the Daily Mail, [2014] EWHC 3137 (QB), is a salutary reminder of the use of defamation law to vindicate one’s professional reputation.

The introduction of “no-win no fee agreements” has ensured access to defamation laws, regardless of income. The availability of insurance protection for a claimant in respect of an order for costs, should you lose an action, is also hugely helpful. Taylor Hampton can arrange such an adverse costs insurance policy for you.

What do I have to prove? 

For a statement made after 1 January 2014, the new Defamation Act 2013 provides that a statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to your reputation[1].

The provision builds upon existing case law on whether a particular imputation is defamatory. In the context of professional reputation:

“Words may be defamatory of a trader or business man or professional man, though they do not impute any moral fault or defect of personal character. They can be defamatory of him if they impute lack of qualification, knowledge, skill, capacity, judgment or efficiency in the conduct of his trade or business or professional activity.” Drummond-Jackson v British Medical Association [1970] 1 All ER 1094

The mere fact that words tend to injure you in the way of your office, profession, trade or business, however, is insufficient. The point can be illustrated by two cases. In Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd [2010] EWHC 1414 (QB), a review of the claimant’s book accused her of the practice of “copy approval” in interviews, a practice disapproved of by journalists. Writers were free, the Judge held, to write to different standards for different readerships and it could not be defamatory of the claimant to say that she did not apply the standards accepted by journalists (the claimant did, however, succeed in relation to another libel contained in the review and in her claim of malicious falsehood). Similarly, in Dee v Telegraph Media Group Ltd [2010] EWHC 924 (QB), the claimant was described as the “world’s worst tennis pro”. Whilst in some cases an imputation of lack of skill is undoubtedly defamatory, such as shaky hands for a surgeon, losing in sport, the Jugde held, was an occupational hazard.

In some cases, the line is difficult to draw. An accusation of corruption or hypocrisy, whether or not it imputes dishonesty, is defamatory, Cook v Telegraph Media Group Ltd [2011] EWHC 336 (QB), but to suggest that an MP has “milked” the expenses system, however, is not, Lait v Evening Standard [2010] EWHC 642 (QB). In other cases, the imputation is clear. It is undoubtedly defamatory to publish of a doctor that he has caused the death or illness of a patient by reckless or careless treatment or that he has forged a medical report, see for example Khalil v Barakat [2013] EWHC 85 (QB).

Establishing that a statement made about you has defamed you in the way of your office, profession, trade or business is merely the first step in a successful defamation claim. The author of the statement may have a defence available to him or her, either under the Defamation Act 2013 or other relevant statutes or under the common law if the cause of action arose prior to 1 January 2014.  It is particularly important to recall that a statement, as objectionable as it may be, if shown to be true, is not defamatory.

Resolve to issue proceeding may waver when faced with the prospect of establishing a defamatory meaning, being met by defences and bringing the statement to light again. The complex waters of libel law, however, can and should be navigated to safeguard your reputation. Daniel Taylor, of Taylor Hampton solicitors, who acted for Dr Serrano, said upon completion of the trial:

“The right to a reputation is a vital human right, every bit as important as freedom of speech and a free Press.  It is right that doctors and any indeed any other dedicated professional should know that where they have been subject to untrue and unjustified allegations by a tabloid or any other publication, the law is there to protect them.”

If you feel that your profession reputation has been, or risks being, harmed, our defamation solicitors at Taylor Hampton solicitors can help you. Please contact us at 020 7353 1238.