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For many people, their personal reputation or the reputation of their business is of the utmost importance. When something happens to damage that reputation, it can have devastating consequences. Defamation (of a person or of a business) can come in two forms, slander or libel. 

What is libel?

For a statement to be libellous, first and foremost, it must be untrue. A defence of truth will defeat a defamation claim. However, in a libel claim, the burden is on the defendant to prove that what they have said is true. It is not the claimant's responsibility to prove that what has been said about them is untrue. 

The untrue words or statement must be published to at least one third party. This means that it would not be libel if someone sent you an email or message which contained information about you which was untrue, unless that email or message had been copied to someone else. The wider the publication, the higher the level of compensation is likely to be. 

Libel is defamation in the form of a permanent publication, including statements made:

  • online, including tweets, posts on facebook, business reviews, blogs or articles;
  • in newspapers or magazine articles;
  • on the radio; or
  • on television.

A statement is libellous if it:

  • lowers you in the minds of right-thinking members of society;
  • disparages you in your trade, business or profession;
  • exposes you to hatred, ridicule or contempt; and
  • causes you to be shunned or avoided.

Libel against an individual and libel against a business require different evidence of harm, if the claim is to be actionable. Libel against an individual must cause serious harm to your reputation, if you are to have a claim. Claims for libel against a business are often more difficult to bring, as there is a requirement for the claimant to prove that the business has suffered serious financial loss as a result of the libel. 

Some types of libel are actionable without you having to prove that serious harm has been caused to your reputation. If you were accused of committing a serious crime, such as being violent, or being a paedophile, the allegation could be considered to be so serious, that the court would infer that serious harm had been caused. 

There are certain classes of libel which cannot be actionable, under the Defamation Act 2013. Typically this covers statements which are made to the police, or statements which are made in court proceedings. There are other types of libel which may not be actionable, but this will depend on the circumstances of each case. You will need advice to confirm whether the libel against you is actionable or not. 

Starting a claim for libel

If you think that you have been libelled, it is important to take action as quickly as possible, as you have only one year from the date of the publication of the libellous statement to start Court proceedings. Exceptions will only be made to this strict time limit in exceptional circumstances. 

If you have a claim for libel, it is important that you start your claim off properly, by using the Defamation Pre Action Protocol. There are strict rules about where claims can be started, and only the High Court has jurisdiction to deal with defamation claims. 

If you or your business have suffered because of a libellous statement, you may be able to claim damages and seek an apology from the person who made the statement.

If your matter is not suitable for a libel claim, you may still be able to stop internet users being able to find libellous or untrue material about you. This is something that we are able to help you with, via our right to be forgotten service.

We understand that it can be difficult for clients to access justice, now that legal aid has all but disappeared. For this reason, we are happy to offer clients with strong cases flexible funding arrangements, which can include no win no fee (conditional fee) arrangements in appropriate cases. 

Libel is a highly specialist area of law, and requires the advice of an expert from the outset. What constitutes libel is constantly changing, particularly because of the widespread use of social media. Defamation online is particularly widespread and is a growing problem. In a Swiss case, a Facebook like was defamatory and entitled a claimant to compensation. 

At Samuels Solicitors in Barnstaple North Devon, we have a wealth of experience in bringing and defending libel claims for our clients. We act for clients from all over England & Wales, on a no win no fee basis wherever possible. 

Contact us today for a no obligation, free discussion about how we can help. 

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