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Defamatory Statements, the Law & Other Cases

While defamation has a clear definition, there are situations in which it can cross over with other legal fields, as is the case with most areas of law. 

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Complicated cases may see several different breaches of the law come into play, changing the rules somewhat and meaning that the burden of proof may be altered or the onus placed on a different party to prove the claims made in their case.

In particular, defamation can be linked to such offences as harassment, malicious falsehood and negligence. How relevant each of these elements may be is dependent on the specifics of the case, so it is important to know how they may affect a defamation claim. In some scenarios, they may mean that it is no longer strictly necessary to prove that a statement was defamatory, as you may be entitled to damages regardless.

Harassment

Harassment is defined as alarming someone or causing them distress and that this alarm or distress should occur on at least two occasions. The forms of harassment include speech.

The punishments for harassment can be a maximum prison sentence of 6 months and a maximum fine of £5,000, plus a restraining order. These are the punishments relating to a criminal prosecution of a person for harassment, but a civil prosecution may also be brought for a case of harassment.

Defences against harassment include: the actions were undertaken in order to prevent or detect other crimes; or that it was a reasonable course of action considering the particular circumstances.

Precedent was set in 2001 by the Court of Appeal in which it was ruled that published articles could constitute harassment; hence the similarity to defamation.

Malicious falsehood

Malicious falsehood is the utterance of a lie about someone with the intention to cause damage to that person. A lie can be defined by the active knowledge that the information was incorrect or that sufficient precaution was not taken in checking its veracity. Having established that the published information was false, the plaintiff must then prove that the defendant’s actions were malicious, they were undertaken either with the design to cause harm or that, through negligence, no consideration was given to the harm communication of the information could cause, and that some harm is likely to be caused.

With malicious falsehood, unlike defamation, the onus is on the claimant to prove that there was falsehood, malice and damages caused. The other major difference and the main reason for malicious falsehood’s being is that it deals with statements that are damaging but are not defamatory, i.e. they didn’t cause damage to a reputation. A statement of malicious falsehood, then, must be something that does not reflect badly upon the party that it is about, yet it must have the potential to cause the plaintiff financial loss.

Negligence

Negligence is defined by a breach in a duty of care that one party owes another. If this duty of care is broken and the way it is broken is through a communication by the person with a duty of care to a third party, and the communication caused harm, reputable, financial or other, to the person who was owed a duty of care then compensation may be claimed by the injured party. This is similar to defamation in that it constitutes a communication of false knowledge that has harmed a person, but that it is also a breach of a duty of care.

For example, if a falsely poor reference was given by former employers to potential new employers and it cost the person the job they had applied for, negligence may be a legitimate claim. Since the statement was defamatory, they may be able to make a claim on the financial loss they suffered as a result of not securing the new job.

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