Defamation – A Case Study
In a world that is constantly developing with technology, communication and connectivity, the issues in turn are also developing. What is the line between freedom of speech and the making of defamatory comments?
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of individuals in any democratic society which allows people to voice their opinion. As the world becomes more connected, in particular through social media, people all over the world now have a platform to share their views overtly. However, freedom of speech is not an absolute right that is available to all without consequences
What is Defamation Law?
Defamation law is the area of law that relates to communications about the reputation of another person. The law of defamation is an attempt to balance the inherent right to protect one’s reputation with the public right to freedom of speech.
The purpose of the area of law is to protect people from having their lives and livelihoods ruined or significantly altered because of untrue statements against them.
The official government statistics revealed there were 156 defamation claims raised before the Royal Courts of Justice in 2017, up from 112 in 2016. The number of recorded cases was the highest since 2014, when 227 defamation claims reached the courts.
An example of a defamation case that this firm has acted on is set out below:
Bee-One UK Ltd v Shajan Skariah (2018)
The Claimant, who was represented by this firm, and the Defendant were part of the Malayalee community; a community which originates in South India.
This was an action for libel (publication of defamatory material that adversely affects a person’s reputation) bought by Bee-One UK Ltd, a company that provides services for individuals wanting to emigrate to Canada, against the Defendant, who was the owner, operator and chief editor of a website self-proclaimed as ‘the comprehensive news portal for the UK Malayalee community’, for publishing 6 articles within the UK about the Claimant.
The Claimant alleged that the allegations made by the Defendant in the publication of the 6 articles, which included that the Claimant operated a fraudulent business, were spurious and caused inevitable serious harm to its trading reputation and caused significant financial loss.
The Defendant’s position was that he was exercising his right to freedom of speech in order to report on a story.
Not only was the Claimant awarded substantial damages and was therefore successful in their libel claim, this was one of the rare cases (and we understand the first case) in England where a Master (a High Court Judge dealing with procedure) ordered the Defendant, pursuant to section 12 of the Defamation Act 2013, to publish a summary of the Court’s judgement on the Defendant’s website.
There is a fine line between freedom of speech and defamation of character. However, statements which are intended to/have the consequence of harming the recipient financially in order to cause serious harm and reputational damage, will cross the line from freedom of speech to being defamatory and will therefore be actionable in law
Principle Author Amrinder Aulakh – Trainee Solicitor
Contributed to by John P. Spyrou – Director
Pinder Reaux Solicitors