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How to Sue Someone for Defamation 

Defamation is a complex legal matter. It occurs when false statements harm an individual’s reputation, and legal action can be taken to seek redress.  

1. Three Elements of Defamation 

Defamation cases require three key elements: (1) a false statement, (2) publication to a third party, and (3) damage to the claimant’s reputation. The statement must be untrue, damaging to the claimant’s reputation, and communicated to someone other than the claimant. 

2. Two Types of Defamation 

There are two types of defamation in the UK: (1) libel and (2) slander. Libel involves written or published defamatory statements, while slander pertains to spoken defamatory remarks. Libel cases are generally considered more serious due to the lasting nature of written statements. 

3. Establishing the Truth 

Truth is a complete defence against a defamation claim. If a defendant can prove that the statement is substantially true, it can serve as a strong defence. As a claimant, it’s crucial to evaluate the accuracy of the alleged defamatory statements before pursuing legal action. 

4. Other Defences 

Apart from the defence of truth, several defences are also available for the accused defendant in a defamation case. These may include consent to publication, honest opinion, publication in the public interest, absolute or qualified privilege, and peer-reviewed statement in scientific or academic journal.  

5. Qualified Privilege 

Although qualified privilege can protect individuals making statements in certain situations (such as during legal proceedings or protecting a legitimate interest), this privilege is not absolute and can be lost if the statements are made with malice or in bad faith. 

6. The Serious Harm Requirement 

The Defamation Act 2013 introduced the “serious harm” requirement, which mandates that claimants must demonstrate that the published defamatory statement has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to their reputation. This requirement aims to filter out trivial or unmeritorious claims.  

In Wright v McCormack [2023] EWCA Civ 892, to meet the serious harm requirement, the Appellant initially relied on the gravity of the imputations complained of, their widespread publication and infer that they had a seriously harmful impact. He later added specific factual allegations in a series of amendments or draft amendments to his case. 

The trial judge held that the case on serious harm which the Appellant presented at the trial did satisfy the requirement. However, he also found that the different case on serious harm which the Appellant had been putting forward – until he abandoned it shortly before the trial – was deliberately false. The trial judge reduced his award to a nominal £1. The Appellant appealed. 

The Court of Appeal ruled that the trial judge was correct to award a lying libel claimant a nominal £1 damages only, although his claim succeeded on liability against the Respondent. Hence, the serious harm requirement must be satisfied and carefully presented before pursuing legal action. 

7. Time Limitations 

There is a one-year limitation period for bringing a defamation claim. You should act promptly if you believe you have a valid case, as missing the deadline may result in your claim being barred. 

8. The Pre-Action Protocol 

Before initiating legal proceedings, parties involved in a defamation case are encouraged to follow the Pre-Action Protocol for Media and Communications Claims. This protocol outlines the steps to be taken by parties before court action, including the exchange of information and a possible settlement. 

9. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) 

Courts often encourage parties to consider ADR methods, such as mediation, before going to trial. ADR can be a more cost-effective and quicker way to resolve defamation disputes. 

10. Legal Costs 

Defamation cases can be expensive, and it’s crucial to consider the potential financial implications. Legal costs can escalate quickly, and even successful claimants may not recover the full amount spent on litigation. From 6 April 2019, conditional fee agreement success fees are no longer be recoverable from opponents in defamation cases. Exploring other funding options, such as after-the-event insurance, is advisable. 

Seeking professional legal advice early in the process is essential to navigate the complexities of defamation law and increase the chances of a successful outcome. If you require any further information on different kinds of legal remedy, please contact MSR Solicitors. 

*This article is not legal advice but provides a general overview. The specific details of your case will determine the best course of action.