The Law on Defamation

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In a landmark case dating from 1936 Lord Atkin put forward the test for whether or not a person’s reputation had been damaged by the words of another. He said that a person who bas had something untruthful printed or said about them has been if “the words used tend to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally". In defamation cases a court must decide whether a statement is defamatory with reference to Lord Atkin’s definition. If it is decided that the claimant has been defamed, then the court must look at whether the offending words amount to a libel or a slander.

Libel is defamation in permanent form such as writing, printing or even painting. Slander, on the other hand, is rather than written and as such the words are not usually recorded and cannot be referred to again. It is therefore considered less serious than libel. The exception to this is if the offending words are broadcast on television. Because television programmes are repeated the defamation is considered to be recorded in permanent form and is therefore regarded as libel.

On the whole, libel is actionable per se, that is, without of damage, whereas in order to recover damages for slander, the claimant must generally prove that he or she has an actual loss. The exceptions are serious allegations, such as suggesting that someone has a criminal act.

There are various defences to as allegation of defamation. The most obvious of these is that the words that have offence are actually true. This is termed “justification" and if the defendant can show that what he or she said or wrote is substantially true then the defendant may on this in court. There is also a defence of “fair comment". This is used in a situation where the claimant’s reputation has been damaged, but the court holds that publication of the information is justifiable because it is in the public for that information to have been made public. Another possible defence is “privilege". For example, within a democracy the need for free and open debate in Parliament is considered to be so vital that anything said cannot be the of an action for defamation. Such freedom is provided for in The Bill of Rights of 1688.

The most common for defamation is damages. The injured party may also seek an from the court to prevent the issue of any more defamatory statements in future.