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Legal Limitations on Freedom of Speech

Defamation law places necessary restrictions on what we are able to say about other individuals or companies. 

For the most part, people are free to speak as they will, but when it can be shown that defamatory statements have been made, an aggrieved person can seek legal redress.

What is defamation?

While it has no single definition, defamation involves making a statement which is likely to lower other people’s opinions of an individual or group of people.

According to the Defamation Act 2013, a statement has to have caused 'serious harm' to be considered defamatory. Additionally the Act stipulates that with respect to businesses, 'serious harm' must have resulted in or be likely to result in serious financial loss.

Defamation takes two forms – libel and slander. Slander is generally used to refer to defamation through speech, whereas libel involves a lasting publication of the defamatory comments.

Remedies for defamation vary, but, include the right to claim damages and/or seek an injunction to prevent further publication.

There are various defences of defamation which can be used if legal action should be taken. It is not always the case that saying something negative about an individual is unlawful; in fact, if it can be proven that the statement was the truth, this is often a defence.