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Below we provide a guide as to various defamation definitions.
Libel and Slander
If it is a publication which is in a permanent form such as a book, magazine or film then it is libel. It is slander if the publication is in a transient form such as speech. Signs, gestures, photographs, pictures etc. can also give rise to a claim in Defamation.
The difference between claims for libel and claims for slander is what a Claimant must prove to succeed. In a libel claim a Claimant does not have to prove that they have suffered loss or damage as a result of the publication as apposed to a claim in slander were the party must prove actual damage. There are exceptions to this however if those spoken words accuse a Claimant of committing a crime, being unfit for his job, then in those situations damage is presumed and need not to be proved.
Definition of Defamation
- An imputation which is likely to lower the person in the estimation of right thinking people;
- An imputation which injures a persons reputation, by exposing them to hatred, contempt or ridicule;
- An imputation which intends to make a person be shunned or avoided
The statement has to lower the Claimant in the estimation of right thinking members of society. If the statement only affected a limited group but not society in general then it would not be defamatory.
An insult or vulgar abuse is not considered to be defamatory, this is because it is not likely to lower the estimation of the Claimant in the estimation of right thinking members of society.
To be the subject of a defamation claim, a statement will have to have caused,or be likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.
For cases issued prior to the 1st January 2014 unlike most other civil claims a defamation claim is usually heard by a Jury. The Judge will decide if the words possibly have a meaning which is damaging to the Claimants reputation and the Juries role is to:
- a) To determine what the words mean in their rational sense and;
- b) To decide if that meaning is defamatory.
When deciding what the words mean, the intentions and knowledge of the person who published the words are irrelevant.
After the 1st January the presumption in favour of a jury trial is abolished and a Claimant will have to apply to the court to have a jury trial at the first CMC.
The law of defamation recognises two types of meaning:
Natural and ordinary meaning of the words
This is not limited to the literal and obvious meaning but includes any inference which the ordinary, reasonable reader would draw from the words.
There are two types of innuendo meaning:
1. False innuendo
Alternative meaning which the ordinary reasonable person can read between the lines or infer from the words.
2. True innuendo
This is were the words appear to be innocent to some people but appear to be defamatory to others because they have special knowledge or extra information, an example of this would be, somebody who is said to be getting married which would not be defamatory to the majority of readers, but it would be to the readers who knew that the person was already married and as such would be commiting bigamy.
Words need to be published to a third party.
The defamation act does provide a defence to persons who are not authors, editors, or commercial publishers if they took reasonable care in the publication and didn’t know or had any reason to believe that what they had done had contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement. This covers printers, distributers, online device providers etc.
An internet service provider who provides news content is not deemed to have behaved defamatory. If however once notified of the offending material the provider fails to remove, then it would not have acted reasonably and the above defence would then not be available.
You would have to show that the statement referred to yourself. Whilst normally that is quite easy to do, if you were not identified by name then you would have to show that the words complained of are understood by some readers to be referring to you.
Although a statement may be quite innocent, it can become defamatory in relation to the article if read as a whole or if placed next to a picture. An example was the case of Leigh Petters v British Broadcasting Corporation.
In this case Mr. Petters who was a solicitor, was involved in a channel 5 quiz show called Brainteaser. Mr. Petters won the show. However it later emerged that in fact there had been an irregularity on a phone in connected with the show. Nobody had rung so Channel 5 had announced five fictitious winners. Channel 5 was fine £300,000 by Ofcom. The BBC report televised library footage of the Brainteaser show which showed Mr. Petters. The Juxtaposition of these pictures with the report of the irregularity in relation to the phone in was deemed defamatory. Mr. Petters won damages of £60,000 from the BBC and Channel 4.
In a statement read in open court on behalf of the Claimant it was said.
“The inclusion of this footage caused Mr Petters considerable distress and embarrassment. He was especially concerned that it could damage his reputation, particularly his reputation for honesty and integrity which, as a solicitor, he values highly.In recognition of this the BBC agreed to broadcast a correction and apology and to join in this Statement in Court.”
An application for a ruling on meaning can shorten the litigation process and reduce costs. This is usually the most hard fought and time consuming part of any action so if the parties can’t agree, then such an application determined by a judge and not jury can either lead to the case being dismissed or settled much earlier.
If you have a defamation claim why not call us today or complete one of our simple enquiry forms.