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DEFAMATION IN ENGLISH LAW: An Overview (B1/B2)

[Some useful collocations - 'word combinations' - in the text are highlighted in bold]


People can suffer harm and damage in many ways. For example, if you suffer physical (personal) injury because of someone else’s negligence, English civil law offers you the chance to obtain a remedy (usually financial compensation, called ‘damages’) from them for that injury. However, sometimes the harm or damage is not physical damage. For example, if someone says, or writes, things about you which are untrue, this can damage your character and your reputation. If this happens, English civil law also offers you the chance to obtain a remedy.


‘Defamation’ happens when someone says things about you that are untrue. The words might be spoken (verbally communicated) or written down (published). Doing this can seriously damage the character and reputation of a person or business. Defamation can fall into one of two categories:


· slander, and

· libel


Slander happens when the defamation is ‘temporary’. It is usually applied to words which are spoken (verbal communication). Libel, on the other hand, is a permanent form of defamation, including words that are written or recorded. There are slightly different requirements for proving slander and libel. However, both involve statements that are made against an identifiable individual (or individuals) and must be statements which would cause someone to think less of the individual.


The English law of defamation was substantially reformed by the Defamation Act 2013. Under section 1 of the Defamation Act, there is a requirement that the statement must have caused, or would be likely to cause, serious harm to the claimant’s reputation. If the claimant brings legal proceedings for defamation, and is successful, a court will award damages. A court may also order an injunction, which is an order of the court which prevents further publication of the defamatory material.


Any action for defamation must be brought within one year of the date of the alleged defamation. This time period is called the ‘limitation period’.


A defendant may raise several defences if defamation is alleged. These defences include:


· truth – the fact that the alleged defamatory statement was true

· honest opinion. To establish the defence of honest opinion, the defendant must show

- that the statement was an expression of opinion

- the statement complained of must indicate the basis of the opinion, and

- the opinion must be one that an honest person could have held

There are also special defences available to operators of websites.





EXERCISE

In each of the following statements, which of the two adjectives (in bold) is correct? The Answer Key follows the exercise.


1. The claimant threatened to sue, but the defendant refused to withdraw the defamable/defamatory allegations.

2. The claimant claimed that the allegations which had damaged his character were not remediable/remediatory.

3. The court awarded £10,000 in compensatable/compensatory damages.

4. The claimant claimed that the statements made in the magazine were libelling/libellous.

5. The alleged/allegatory statement caused substantial damage to the claimant’s reputation.











ANSWER KEY

1. defamatory

2. remediable

3. compensatory

4. libellous

5. alleged


Note: The contents of this post are for educational and study purposes only. They should not be taken as legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact an appropriate legal advisor.


© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021



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