Always read the libel the basics of defamation law
Libel law is the area of defamation law which covers written and published comments. UK Libel law seeks to strike a balance between protecting free speech and protecting individuals from unjustified or malicious attacks on their character.
Libel law allows civil actions to be brought in the High Court against statements published about a named or otherwise identifiable individual which causes a loss in their profession or would make a reasonable person think less of them. The UK is known for having particularly stringent libel laws; the High Court has regularly ordered large payouts to the victims of libel and defamation of character.
Libel Law: Defences
While the UK’s libel law does seek to punish those who make unfounded, damaging comments about others it takes into account the importance of free speech and provides several defences to those who made the comment:
A claim under libel law will fail if the defendant can prove that the comment made is true. The substance of comment must be proved, not just that it was said by another person. Using this defence can be dangerous, as defendants have to provide evidence of the claim’s truth, which will be considered to aggravate the libel and increase the settlement if the defence fails.
UK libel law allows defendants the chance to prove that their comment was fair and that the point of view expressed could have been held by a reasonable person. This defence can be slightly vague and therefore difficult to use, its aim is to stop people being sued simply for saying that they don’t like something or someone.
This is designed to protect official proceedings such parliamentary debates, court cases and the like. Comments made in a situation where absolute privilege exists will be totally immune from actions being brought under libel law.
This defence covers comments made in the public interest or where there is mutual interest between two parties. The High Court recently allowed the mass media to use this defence, in the case of Reynolds vs Times Newspapers Ltd it was upheld that newspapers could have qualified privilege as long as their comments came under the definition of ‘responsible journalism’ – any comments using this defence must be ‘fair and accurate’ and the writer may not ‘garnish or embellish’ them.
Generally libel law sees everyone involved in the publication of a defamatory comment as liable, whether they actually wrote the malicious comments in a magazine or simply drove the truck full of magazines to a shop where they would be sold. Innocent dissemination applies where the process of distribution is so mechanical that the people furthering the comment and aggravating the libel could not reasonably have known about it. As well as shops and distribution companies this defence has recently been used by web hosts and ISP’s blamed for hosting defamatory material.
Libel law in the UK is a complex set of statutes and precedents; it is constantly evolving to keep up with modern sensibilities and new communications technology. If you have an issue with libel law or any other aspect of defamation it would be wise to seek expert legal advice as soon as possible.