Defamation of Character and Reputation Management
A person’s reputation often takes years to build and yet it can be destroyed in a minute. This situation has been exacerbated by the speed and permanence of online publications and social media alongside traditional media outlets.
The power and reach of social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, can lead to an individual’s reputation being badly damaged at the click of a button. Often ill thought or malicious comments can stay online permanently. Meanwhile, internet giants, such as Google, bring up these posts when an individual’s name is searched. As well as being a search engine, Google also provides the framework for blogs which can also be defamatory.
All of these matters are dealt with as part of our practice. Our defamation lawyers in London are experts at defending individual, family office and business reputations, including the law of defamation (libel and slander), malicious falsehood and data protection.
The quicker we can act, the better the outcome. The best way to protect your reputation and defend yourself from defamation is to prevent an allegation from being published in the first place. Our team of defamation lawyers have successfully prevented articles appearing by urgently corresponding with the author or publisher prior to publication to set the record straight.
If a defamatory story has been published online, we work hard to ensure that it is promptly removed. Where required, we can often track down the culprits even if they are anonymous.
If a defamatory story has already been published, be it online, in the printed press or on TV we can insist on an early and fulsome apology or correction, together with payment of appropriate damages and your legal costs. This is often enough to set the record straight.
We are defamation experts and, where clients have not been able to vindicate their reputations prior to issuing court proceedings, we have a strong record of suing in relation to defamatory articles. The following remedies are available:
- An injunction/undertaking not to repeat the defamatory statement;
- An apology/retraction, in terms to be agreed;
- Payment of damages (compensation for injury to reputation and distress/injury to feelings). The amount you can expect varies largely depending on the gravity of the defamatory statement, the readership figures and class of readership.
- Legal costs;
- A statement in open court to correct the record.
We have successfully acted for the following:
Sylvia Henry, the Baby P Social Worker, in her successful action against the Sun in relation to 80 highly defamatory articles. The Sun was forced to apologise to Ms Henry, both in Court and in print, and to pay her substantial damages and her costs.
Antonio Serrano, a GP, in his claim for defamation against the Daily Mail after the paper falsely ran a story condemning his treatment of a patient. The paper ran a story under the headline, “A whole year of hell, thanks to a foreign doctor”. Dr Serrano was fully vindicated by the Court and was awarded substantial damages and his costs.
Dr Sarah Thornton, an author and academic, who was libelled by the Daily Telegraph. This was a landmark case which changed the law. It led to the important test of “substantial damage to reputation” being required in order to found a libel action. This subsequently contributed to the enactment of the “serious harm” test in the Defamation Act 2013. It was also notable because general damages were awarded for malicious falsehood for the first time in many years.
Bruno Lachaux, a French aerospace engineer residing in the UAE, in his claims for defamation against the Independent Print Limited, the “i” Newspaper, the Evening Standard and AOL (UK) Ltd, otherwise known as the Huffington Post. This is another landmark case in the law of libel, having been one of the first to test the requirement for ‘serious harm’ under the Defamation Act 2013.
Defamation (Slander and Libel) – frequently asked questions:
What is defamation?
Defamation occurs when a statement that refers to an identifiable legal person is published to a third party which has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the identified person’s reputation.Serious harm to reputation is capable of being inferred from the words published.It is for the Claimant to show serious harm to reputation. The starting point is that the statements complained of are accepted as being false – it is open to the Defendant to argue that the statements complained of are true, but the burden is on the Defendant to show this.
Taylor Hampton acted for the Claimant in Bruno Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd  EWCA Civ 1334, which was the first time that the Court of Appeal has considered the new “serious harm” to reputation requirement.
What is Slander?
Slander refers to a temporary publication, usually spoken words, but it can also extend to other forms of expression that are not recorded permanently.
What is Libel?
Unlike slander which is transient in form, libel is permanent and usually refers to written words.
Can a company sue in defamation (libel and slander)?
Yes, provided it can show that the statement has caused, or is likely to cause, serious financial loss.
Can I bring a claim in respect of statements published online?
Yes, defamatory statements published online are treated in the same way as defamatory statements published in a newspaper. However, following the enactment of the Defamation Act 2013, operators of websites are afforded additional protections in circumstances where they are not responsible for the publication of the statements complained of and they have acted in accordance with their regulatory requirements.
Who do I sue for libel or slander and what if I do not know the identity of the publisher?
You can sue any person/entity who published the defamatory statements or caused them to be published. This includes publishing companies and its editors. As explained above, it is also possible to sue website operators. Where more than one person/entity is responsible for publishing the defamatory statements, you can sue them as co-defendants or sue them separately. We can help you determine who to sue based on your objectives and financial considerations.
If you do not know the identity of the person responsible for publishing the defamatory statements, for example if the statements feature on an anonymous blog, we may be able to apply for a pre-action disclosure order against a third party who does know the identity of the wrongdoer.
How long do I have to issue a defamation lawsuit (Slander and Libel)?
Ordinarily you have one year from the date of publication to issue your claim for defamation.
What is the first stage in a defamation lawsuit?
The first step is to write and send to the intended defendant what is known as a Pre-Action Protocol Letter of Claim. This letter will set out your complaint in detail and give the defendant an opportunity to respond. Sometimes, the Defendant accedes to the requests contained in the letter and a settlement can be reached. Sometimes however, the defendant chooses to defend the claim, in which case the next step would be to issue proceedings.
What defences are available to a defendant?
The following defences are available to a defendant in a defamation claim:
- Honest Opinion;
- Publication on a matter of public interest;
- Privilege (absolute or qualified).
As part of our initial assessment of your claim, we will consider the defences available and advise you accordingly.
Do I have to bring a lawsuit to obtain redress?
No, not necessarily. As indicated above, a defendant may accede to your requests following the sending of a Pre-Action Protocol Letter of Claim. It may also be possible to settle the claim through attending mediation.
Finally, a number of publications are members of a regulatory body called the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). Members of IPSO are subject to an Editors’ Code of Practice, which sets out a framework of standards covering the following topics within journalism:
- Intrusion into grief or shock
- Reporting Suicide
- Children in sex cases
- Reporting of Crime
- Clandestine devices and subterfuge
- Victims of sexual assault
- Financial journalism
- Confidential sources
- Witness payments in criminal trials
- Payment to criminals
- The Public Interest
The scope of an IPSO complaint is potentially very wide. However, whilst they can requirethe publication of an apology, they cannot order the payment of compensation for any published wrong.
We can consider whether making an IPSO complaint may be appropriate for you.
Taylor Hampton is a defamation law firm in London, UK. Our Slander and Libel practitioners have years of experience in representing individuals and businesses in both bringing and defending claims. If you feel you have been defamed or are facing allegations of defamation, please contact Taylor Hampton to find out how our defamation lawyers can help you.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is for information purposes only. The article is not advice and should not be treated as such. The legal points made in this article are for general application only and should not be taken as specific advice for individual use.