What are the time limits for defamation claims?

Judith Thompson

When somebody is the victim of defamation (whether it is libel or slander) there are fairly tight time limits in English law for starting Court proceedings against an opponent.

The law says that the victim of libel or slander has just 12 months from the date of publication of the libellous or slanderous statement to start Court proceedings. Parties to a dispute are expected to try to settle before Court proceedings are issued, meaning that the 12 months can expire very quickly.

The Court also takes a fairly dim view of claimants who wait until the very last moment to issue proceedings, and this can have an effect upon the damages which are recovered.

The 12 month time limit can be varied, if you do not find out about the libel or slander until after the deadline has passed, but in those circumstances you will need to act very quickly, and you will need expert assistance. 

If a defamatory statement appears online, the clock doesn't start running again on every day that the publication appears - the date must be calculated from the date of first publication. 

A recent case has highlighted exactly when the 12 month clock started running. 

In the case of Otuo v Watchtower Bible & Tracked Society of Britain, the Court of Appeal decided that the clock should not start running until the day after the defamatory statement was published. In the Otuo case, the statement was published (in the form of an announcement to a congregation) on 19 July 2012.  The original proceedings had been issued on 19 July 2013 and the Defendant had successfully argued in the High Court that this meant the proceedings had been issued a day late. 

However, the Court of Appeal overturned this decision and confirmed that the clock did not start running until the day after the defamatory statement was published.

If you need some advice about a libel limitation period, to ensure that you start your claim on time, we can help.

At Samuels Solicitors, based in Devon, we have a wealth of experience of dealing with defamation claims, both slander and libel, acting for clients throughout England and Wales.

Where clients have a strong case, we will always seek to act under the terms of a Conditional (no win no fee) Agreement.

If you have been the victim of libel or slander contact us today.