What is the law on malicious falsehoods and slander?

What is slander?

Slander occurs where someone tells one or more people an untruth about another which will harm the reputation of the person named. Unlike libel, which must exist in a permanent form (such as written words or a photograph), slander exists in a transient form. Usually this would involve the spoken word, although under the Theatres Act 1968, a defamatory statement made in a public performance of a play is classed as libel, as is one made on radio or television (under the Broadcasting Act 1990).

What has to be proven in a slander case?

In a libel action, damage will be presumed by the court. In a slander action, however, the burden will usually fall on the claimant to prove damage. There are four types of slander case in which actual loss/ damage does not have to proven:

  • if a statement suggests an individual has committed a crime punishable by imprisonment or death.
  • if a statement suggests an individual suffers from any contagious or ‘objectionable’ disease. The test used is whether the disease would cause this individual to be shunned or avoided – eg, venereal disease or leprosy.
  • if there has been any statement suggesting that a woman is not chaste.
  • if there has been any statement intended to disparage an individual in his office, profession, trade, calling or business.

What happens if slander is repeated in the media?

Media organisations have to be wary of repeating third party slander by way of interviews. If the original slander is repeated by a journalist, they risk being sued for slander, in addition to the interviewee.

What is a malicious falsehood?

A claim for malicious falsehood may by brought if someone maliciously makes a false statement that causes the claimant financial loss. Unlike in defamation cases, damage to reputation is not required.

What does the claimant have to prove to succeed in a malicious falsehood action?

Claimants need to prove the statement in question is not true. This differs with libel cases where the assumption by the court is that the defamatory statement is false and the burden is on the defendant, say the journalist, to prove that the statement is in fact true.

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For more information on:

  • Can you get legal aid for malicious falsehoods?
  • What is the limitation period for malicious falsehoods?
  • Can an editor make a correction and avoid being sued for malicious falsehood?
  • What constitutes slander of goods and title?