Defamation: Libel and Slander


Our defamation solicitors are experts in taking forward what can be tricky defamation cases.

Whether you have a case for libel or slander our defamation solicitors will be able to talk you through every step of the process from issuing your claim to attending court in the final trial.

If you feel you have a potential defamation case please contact us on 0800 014 8727 and one of our advisers will be able to discuss your situation and advise you on the viability of your claim.

What is Defamation?

Defamation is defined as the publishing of a statement which lowers the individual or the company in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally.[1] Broadly, the test is whether a statement would cause one to think less of the person or company to whom it refers. The other side can defend a claim under the grounds of justification, privilege or fair comment.

To be successful in a defamation action, the words that are complained of must be:

  • Defamatory
  • Identify or refer to the claimant
  • Published by a defendant to a third party

The defendant has to be able to show that the statement is true or be able to explain why they should benefit from one of the other defences to defamation (i.e. fair comment or privilege)

However, Section 1 Defamation Act 2013 has made it clear that for a statement to be defamatory, serious harm must be done to the reputation of the Claimant as a result of it. For a business to be able to claim something is defamatory they need to show they will suffer significant financial loss because of it.

Is it libel or slander?

Libel and slander are two subsections of defamation.

Libel is the publication of a defamatory statement within a permanent form. This can take many forms such as within books, magazines, internet web pages, letters etc

Slander is a defamatory statement in a transitory form. I.e. when someone makes a defamatory statement whilst speaking to someone else. Although there are certain points on the internet when it might be classed as slander rather than libel, for example on internet bulletin boards.

It should be important to note that with regard to slander the Claimant will have to prove that they have suffered actual financial loss unlike in libel.

If you are confused about whether a statement is libel or slander contact our experienced team on 0800 014 8727. We will be able to pin down exactly what the comments are and whether they are potentially defamatory.

Limitation Period

In defamation matters, the Claimant only has one year from the date of publication of the defamatory statement to sue for defamation. Although the court does have a broad discretion to extend this period in circumstances where it is equitable to do so.

Currently there is a fresh cause of action (i.e. the limitation period is renewed) each time the statement is published. So, if the statement is republished the one year limitation period starts all over again.

However this is likely to change with the Defamation Act 2013. In it the rule changes so that if the one year limitation period pass then any further publications by the original publisher will not count to renew the limitation period. The limitation period will only start again if a new publisher reprints the original material again. The court will retain the power to extend the limitation period at their discretion.

Defences to defamation

As mentioned above there are 3 main defences which we will go into minor detail here:

Justification (Truth)

This is a complete defence to the action of defamation (as long as the defendant can prove that the statement is substantially true). The defendant does not need to show that there is public interest in the publication or whether they acted maliciously.

The burden of proof is on the defendant to prove that allegations are true, the burden of proof is that of balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt.

If the publication is based on a rumour then the defendant can justify the publication by showing the rumour is true. They need to prove the initial allegation is true.

An unsuccessful defence of justification is likely to increase the level of any damages.

Fair Comment

This is a defence if the defendant can show that the statement is an expression of opinion on a matter of public interest (and not a statement of fact).

A matter of public interest is viewed by the courts as matters which will affect people at large. To the extent that they may be legitimately interested in what is going on (or indeed what might be happening to them).

The comment does however have to be based on true facts which are stated in the publication, or are referred to. The defendant must prove that the underlying facts are true.

The defence will not stand if they can show that the comment was made maliciously.


There are two parts of privilege, absolute and qualified privilege.

Absolute Privilege

If the defendant’s comments were made in Parliament or under oath in a court of law they are entitled to absolute privilege. There can be no investigation into whether remarks made in these situations are defamatory.

Qualified Privilege

Again, there are certain limited situations where you have privilege and as such will have a defence against a action of defamation. This is because it is accepted that in particular circumstances it is to the benefit of society for people to be  able to communicate without the fear of being sued for defamation.

It allows persons in positions of authority or trust to make statements or reports that would be considered slander or libel if made by anyone else. For example, reports and remarks of parliamentary proceedings as well as reports of judicial proceedings attract qualified privilege.

These statements do have to be fair and accurate and if the writer goes on to garnish or embellish them, then the defence will not generally be allowed to apply.

Another situation where qualified privilege stands is when there is a mutual interest between two parties. If there is a duty to impart statements which are deemed to be defamatory then they are potentially protected.

What can our defamation solicitors do for you?

If you have had defamatory statements made against you, or you have allegedly published defamatory statements yourself, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0800 014 8727. Alternatively, you can submit details of your situation via our quick and simple online enquiry form and we will respond via phone, email or text within 48 hours of receipt.

Our friendly team will be able give you advice on what happens next and whether our defamation solicitors will be able to assist you in your situation.