Damages Awards in Defamation Claims.
A successful claimant in a defamation claim is entitled to recover, as general damages, a sum which will compensate them for the wrong suffered. That sum must compensate them for the damage to their reputation, vindicate their good name and take account of the distress and humiliation which the publication has caused.
In assessing damages, the most important factor is the seriousness of the libel. The more closely it touches their personal integrity, professional reputation and the core attributes of their personality, the more serious it is likely to be.
The extent of publication is important. A libel published to millions in a national newspaper has a much greater potential to cause damage than one published to a few people.
An award of damages enables the claimant to vindicate their reputation. The significance of this is much greater in a case where the defendant continues to assert the truth of the statement and refuses to retract it or fails to provide an apology, than in a case where the defendant acknowledges the falseness and apologises for the publication.
Compensatory damages may compensate for additional injury caused to the feelings by the conduct of the action by the defendant, such as when that person persists in asserting the publication was true, or refuses to apologise, or cross-examines the claimant in a very damaging or insulting way.
The initial measure of damages is the amount that would restore the claimant to the position they would have enjoyed had they not been defamed.
The existence and scale of any harm to reputation may be established by evidence or inferred. Evidence that tends to show as a fact a person was shunned, avoided, or taunted will be relevant.
The impact of a libel on a person’s reputation can be affected by:
- Their position if they are a senior person such as a doctor.
- The extent to which the publisher of the defamatory statement is authoritative and credible. The person may be someone known to be well placed to know the facts and as such believable, or they may appear to be unreliable.
- The identities of the publishees is important. Publication to family, friends or work colleagues may be more harmful than that circulated to strangers. Although, those close to a claimant may be less likely to believe what has been stated.
- The propensity to percolate particularly because of the internet and social media.
- Damages may be aggravated if the defendant acts maliciously.
A person can only be compensated for injury to the reputation they had at the time of publication. If that person already had a bad reputation which is relevant to the defamation, that will reduce the harm, and reduce the damages, sometimes to zero.
Other factors may reduce or mitigate damages such as directly relevant background context. To be successful, the proposed evidence will need to have some connection to the subject matter of the defamatory statement. The more different the subject matter of the evidence is to the defamatory statement, and the further away in time, the less likely it is to be successful.
An offer of amends will reduce the award as will a reasoned judgment. Any award also needs to be proportionate and is limited by the Human Rights Act 1998.
Recent Libel Damages awards.
The current ceiling for damages awards in libel actions is £300,000 as per Mr Justice Warby’s decision in 2017 in Barron v Collins which will appear low in comparison to other areas of law. These claims do not attract high value settlements as the purpose is to achieve restoration to your reputation and vindication, which can be achieved by way of apology or, if following a trial, a reasoned judgment which you can point to, with damages as only a part of the remedies available.
In the case of Triad Group Plc v Makar  EWHC 306 (QB) allegations published on Twitter about the claimant being involved in serious criminal activity were held to be both defamatory and had caused significant serious harm. In addition, the claimant brought a claim of harassment against the defendant which was also held to be serious. The claimant was awarded the sum of £60,000 in damages in relation to the libel and an additional £65,000 damages award in relation to the harassment claim.
In Gilham v MGN Ltd  EWHC 2217 (QB) a teacher was reported incorrectly as having been found guilty of misconduct following a regulatory hearing. The allegation of misconduct related to physical assault against a primary school age child which was very serious. This had an impact upon his professional reputation. The article was printed in national newspapers as well as online. The claimant accepted an offer of amends. The final award by the court was £49,000, however in this matter less than 50% was deducted from the award based on the conduct of the defendants.
In Turley v Unite the union  EWHC 3547 (QB) a claimant had been awarded the sum of £75,000 following trial. The claimant brought an action against the defendant who alleged online that there were reasonable grounds to suspect that he had been dishonest and fraudulently joined the trade union in order to vote in its leadership election. The defendant continued to publish the article without apology. There was an aggravated damages sum awarded, although not separately in respect of the defendant’s conduct at trial claiming the claimant was dishonest without merit. The allegations were serious, amounting to criminal behaviour although the meaning of the publication was not of guilt, rather ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’. The libel was against a Member of Parliament and the matter involved political persuasion which added to the seriousness, thus the damages award.
In Doyle v smith  EMLR 347 a defendant alleged there were good reasons to suspect the claimant of fraud and reasonable grounds to suspect him guilty of blackmail and sending malicious communications in two publications. The defendant argued only 242 had viewed the first article and less the second therefore damages should be restricted. Following trial and no offer of amends, the claimant was awarded £37,500.
In Fentiman v Marsh  EWHC 2099 (QB) a CEO of a company issued proceedings against a defendant who claimed he had illegally hacked its website and social media pages. There was evidence the allegations had spread, known as ‘grapevine dissemination’, additional publications taking place directly as a result of the publication by the defendant therefore increasing the extent of publication. Following trial an award of £55,000 was attained which included £10,000 aggravated damages.
In Burgon v Newsgroup Newspapers Limited  EWHC 195 (QB) a claimant brought an action against a national newspaper for having published an online article alleging he had ‘joined a band which, as he knew, took great pleasure in using Nazi symbols’. Following trial an award of £30,000 was awarded, the libel being more serious because the claimant was an MP and therefore a well-known individual.
In Monir v Wood  EWHC 3525 (QB) a claimant issued a claim against the Bristol branch of UKIP which had, via Twitter, published a photograph of him with a caption alleging he was under investigation for the sexual abuse of children in Rotherham. The claimant was not under investigation and it was accepted the allegation was false however the defendant refused to apologise and withdraw the allegation on the basis that the reader would be unable to sufficiently identify the claimant as he was not named. Following trial, the claimant was awarded the sum of £40,000. The libel was very serious, alleging there were grounds to investigate his involvement in criminal activity.
In Woodward v Grice  EWHC 1292 a solicitor brought an action in libel in relation to a publication alleging he had been struck off the Solicitor Roll. The defendant in this action failed to accept he was wrong, stating that he had obtained the information from a third party website; that is, until the hearing of the claimant’s interim injunction hearing, when evidence was provided to him demonstrating he was wrong. The court awarded aggravated damages as a result of the defendant’s conduct, being his refusal to accept he was wrong until the interim injunction hearing, in the sum of £8,000 in addition to general damages in the sum of £10,000.
In Undre v Harrrow LBC  EMLR 270 the local authority defendant alleged in a news release published online that the claimant, who was the operator of a vegan restaurant, had caused death to cows through neglect when actually the claimant was convicted of less serious animal welfare offences. This matter settled by offer of amends but late on in proceedings and it was noted it was done so begrudgingly. The court awarded the sum of £12,000 discounted to £9,000, refusing to allow 50% deduction in respect of the offer of amends.
In Sooben v Badal  EWHC 2638 (QB) the defendant alleged the claimant and a solicitor had attempted to get individuals to commit perjury. The continued defence of truth up until conclusion of the claim including during cross examination at trial lead to an award of £70,000. Again, this was a serious allegation of criminality which was found to be false.
In Hourani v Thompson  EWHC 432 the defendant carried out a campaign of harassment against the claimant through both online publications and distribution of stickers, accusing him of complicity in murder. There were two separate awards following trial, a payment in respect of the defamation in the sum of £50,000 and a further £30,000 for the harassment element.
In Oyster v Reed  EWHC 1067 (QB) a claimant was accused of threatening a defendant with a gun in order to deter him from giving assistance to others in another libel action issued by the claimant. The allegation had been published online and the claimant was a well-known individual. Judgment was entered in default and the claimant was awarded the sum of £30,000 in damages. The case involved serious allegations of criminal misconduct, the claimant was a well-known individual, but the award was assessed earlier on in proceedings and not following a full contested trial.
In Barron and another v Vines  EWHC 1226 (QB), the leader of UK Independence Party group made defamatory allegations in relation to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, suggesting that the extent of the sexual abuse of children in the area by grooming gangs was known to MPs who did nothing to stop it. In this action, two MPs sued the leader of UKIP in which the court was tasked with carefully considering the balance between freedom of speech particularly in politics, as against the damage to the claimants’ reputations when determining the level of award. The court awarded the sum of £40,000 each.
In Rai v Bholowasia  EWHC 382 an award of £50,000 was achieved. The defendant published articles in a local newspaper (80,000 readership) accusing the claimant of theft, breach of trust, conspiracy to assault and threats to kill. There was a full trial and therefore no deduction awarded for offer of amends. Serious allegations of criminality were made against the claimant which were found to be false following trial.
In Appleyard v Wilby  EWHC 2770 (QB) the claimant, a police officer, was accused in a tweet of having befriended and protected a celebrity who he knew to be a paedophile and rapist. In doing so was misusing his position as a police officer, and was himself accused of being a threat to children. The allegations of professional misconduct and criminal activity were serious and the award following judgment in default of a defence was £60,000.
In Garcia v Associated Newspapers Ltd  EWHC 3137 the publisher of The Daily Mail newspaper was sued by a General Practitioner who was Spanish following publication of an article which had labelled her a ‘foreign doctor’ and that she had caused her patient to suffer ‘a year of hell’ by reporting him to the DVLA highlighting concerns as to his fitness to drive without cause. The court awarded the sum of £45,000 in general damages for damage to reputation; hurt; distress and vindication.
In Flood v Times Newspapers Limited  EWHC 4075 (QB) a claimant sued the defendant following publication of an article alleging there were grounds to believe the claimant was guilty of accepting bribes from Russian criminal suspects in return for selling confidential intelligence in relation to attempts to extradite them to Russia. The claimant was a police officer and therefore being accused of professional misconduct as well as criminal activity. Following trial, a sum of £60,000 was awarded, and of that sum £15,000 represented aggravated damages as a consequence of the defendant’s refusal to provide an update to the online article.
In Cairns v Modi  1 WLR 1015 the claimant, who was a well-known cricketer, was accused on Twitter of match fixing. The defence of justification failed and following trial an award of £90,000 was achieved of which £15,000 represented aggravated damages. The high level of damages would have taken into account the high-profile reputation in addition to the allegation of criminality.
In Al-Amoudi v Kifle  EWHC 2037 (QB) the libel was published on an Ethiopian based website and was left there for months. The claimant was accused of financing terrorism in allowing his daughter at the age of 13 to marry an elderly and disabled member of the Saudi Royal Family as a form of gift and hunting her down with a view to her execution by stoning or flogging. He was awarded the sum of £175,000.
In Metropolitan International Schools Limited and Designtechnica Corporation  EWHC 2411 (QB) the defendant alleged the claimant’s offer of distance learning courses was a scam. Evidence was provided that the allegations had deterred potential students from taking the courses and a sum of £50,000 was ordered following judgment in default of a defence.
In Wood v Chief constable of West Midlands Police  EMLR 449 the claimant brought an action against the police following phone calls and letters sent by them to members of the insurance industry alleging the claimant had a motor salvage business which was aided by the criminal activity of his business partner. An award following trial was attained in the sum of £45,000.
In Veliu v Mazrekaj  1WLR 495 the claimant was accused of being implicated in the London and Paris bombings in a Kosovan newspaper. Its circulation amongst Albanian speakers in London was said to be in the thousands. Eady J awarded £180,000 (current value £212,400).
In Ghannouchi v Al-Arabiya EWHC 2855 (QB) the claimant, a Tunisian exile was accused of having extremist links with Al-Qaeda. The programme was broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people. There was no apology, no offer of amends, as a consequence the award was aggravated, and he was awarded £165,000 (current value £188,100).
In Lillie and Reed v Newcastle City Council and Others  EWHC 1600 (QB) two nursery workers were accused of sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children in care. This was nationally reported in over 100 articles. They had to flee their homes and jobs and go into hiding and change their names. Some defendants pleaded justification and maintained the plea to trial. They were awarded £200,000.
In Rantzen v Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd  QB 670 Esther Rantzen was accused in The People newspaper of keeping secret the fact that a teacher who helped her to expose sexual abuse at a boy’s school was himself an abuser. Mirror Group Newspapers pleaded justification and fair comment. The Jury awarded £250,000 which was reduced on appeal to £110,000 (current value £182,600).
In Terluk v Berezovsky  EWCA Civ 1534) statements were made on a Russian programme broadcast in the UK. The claimant had been accused of offering the defendant massive payments to tell a false story to help him avoid extradition to Russia. When the defendant refused, he was accused of drugging him. The claimant was awarded £150,000 (current value £157,500) on appeal. The Judge thought it was on the high side but refused to interfere.
In Campbell-James v Guardian Newspapers  EMLR 24 an allegation was made that the claimant, a distinguished army officer, had been involved in systematic abuse and humiliation of inmates at a prison in Iraq. In fact, when the abuse took place the claimant was not even in Iraq. The claimant had been exposed to a long-term security risk and would not be able to work in the Middle East again, and his career was damaged. Eady J took a starting point of £90,000 (current value £108,900).
In Houston v Smith the claimant was a GP accused by the defendant of having sexually harassed her. The accusation was made in front of only a few people in the waiting room of the GP’s practice. The allegation however was so serious it could have ended the doctor’s career. An award of £150,000 was made by the Jury which was reduced by the Court of Appeal to £50,000 (current value £83,000). Hirst LJ thought that the award was at the very top end of the scale and if the defendant had promptly apologised it would have been a small fraction.
In Nail v News Group Newspapers Ltd the claimant was “from the News of the World”. The paper had 4 million copies distributed. The article suggested that he had progressed from eating dog meat to engaging in grubby sexual behaviour and being a heartless prima donna. The starting point was £45,000 (current value £56,250).
In Angel v Stainton a letter was sent to five influential recipients that the claimant had been involved in illegal arms dealing and had received a prison sentence some years earlier. An unqualified offer of amends was made two months later. Eady J held the correct figure was £40,000 (current value £47,200) as it was a very small distribution. However, the Judge thought that even so, the allegation had been so serious that if he was to award a modest level of compensation some people would consider that there was truth in the allegation.