English law enables an individual to make a claim in a civil court where another has made a false statement about that individual to a third party which has harmed that individual’s reputation.
What is Defamation?
The law of defamation protects the individual when faced with the above scenario, simply protecting the individual’s reputation nothing more. If words can be construed to reduce the reputation of the individual in the minds of the general public then an action of defamation can be brought.
For defamation to occur the following factors need to exist:
That there has been a false statement
That the false statement was published. Someone else has to see them for this to happen
That the false statement has in fact caused the individual’s reputation to be tarnished.
In relation to the last aspect the individual must have a reputation in the first place. An example of an individual not having a reputation to be damaged is someone who has been convicted of a serious offence. Their reputation will be sufficiently damaged by the offence to afford no legal protection enabling the newspapers to print what they like about the individual without having to worry about a claim of defamation.
What defences are there against a claim of defamation?
The following may be used to defend against a claim of defamation:
One of the above elements required to establish the defence is missing
The words were in fact true
Privilege – certain persons and proceedings are said to be privileged. A judge in his or her courtroom for example.
How is this affected by the Internet?
Words published on the internet which may have harmed a person’s reputation are covered by the law of defamation but somewhat problematically. The nature of the internet makes it difficult to know who to approach when bringing a claim. For example in the print media you would approach the author or the publisher. With the internet it is much less clear cut to know who is liable, however, some recent case law has provided an option.
For more information on:
- How should ISP’s protect against this?
- Malicious falsehood
- What is malicious falsehood?
- Malicious Prosecution
- What is Malicious Prosecution?