Defamation

The law of defamation is used to protect someone’s reputation. Defamation occurs where someone hurts the reputation of another by spreading false information about them.

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What is defamation?

Defamation is when a person writes or says something untrue about someone else to other people and what they write or say is likely to make other people think less of that person.

To be defamation:

    • the material must be communicated to someone else.  The material can be communicated by whatever means, such as talking to others, tweeting on Twitter, posting on Facebook or printing in a newspaper;
    • the material must be about a particular person or business. The material will be about someone if it names them.  If the material doesn’t name someone, it will be about them if people can reasonably figure out who it is about; and
    • the material must be defamatory. Material about someone is defamatory if it causes an average person to think less of them. Sometimes material may be damaging without being defamatory (e.g. if it is true).

What can I do if I think someone has defamed me?

If you think you have been defamed, it is important to remember that the defamatory material must cause the average person to think less of you. Material you personally find hurtful or material you personally disagree with will not necessarily be defamation – for example, if the material is substantially true or is unlikely to cause you harm.

If you think you have been defamed, there are a number of legal and non-legal pathways available to you:

    • you can ask the person who defamed you to take down the material;
    • you can report the defamatory material to social media and ask them to take down the material (if it was posted on Facebook or Twitter etc);
    • you can send the person who defamed you with a legal notice asking them to take down the material and make a public correction;
    • you can sue the person who defamed you (or anyone involved in defaming you) for defamation. If you have been defamed, you usually must sue within the time limit of 1 year from when the material was communicated.

It is important to know that legal action can be very expensive, complicated, and time consuming. There is no guarantee you would win. If you think you have been defamed, we strongly recommend you get legal advice about your options.

If you successfully sue someone for defamation, the court may award you money (as damages) to compensate you for damage to your reputation, your hurt feelings, and any economic loss you have suffered. The court may also stop the person who defamed you from publishing defamatory material about you in the future (which is called an injunction).

If you think that someone may have defamed you, you can contact us here for free and confidential legal advice.

What can I do if I think I have defamed someone?

If you think you have defamed someone, you can apologise to the person you defamed and take the material down. This might resolve the situation.

If the person you defamed wishes to sue you for defamation, or sends you a legal notice asking you to take down the material and apologise, we recommend you see a lawyer for advice. 

If you have defamed someone, you may be able to defend yourself from being sued in court. There are a number of ways to defend yourself, such as justification, triviality,  honest opinion and privilege.

If you are worried that you may have defamed someone, you can contact us here for free and confidential legal advice.

Justification

Justification is where the defamatory material is substantially true. However, you shouldn’t say something is true when it isn’t, as that can lead to worse consequences.

Triviality

Triviality is where the defamatory material is unlikely to cause harm to someone’s reputation. For example, there may be a defence of triviality when the defamatory material is only communicated to a small amount of people.

Honest Opinion

The defence of honest opinion protects you if you are being sued over an opinion you honestly hold. You must show that your statement is genuinely an opinion (rather than a statement of fact), that your opinion is based on proper material (for example, something that is substantially true) and that it is about a matter of public interest (such as a review of a movie or a restaurant).

Qualified privilege

If you tell someone something they have an interest in knowing about and act reasonably while doing so, you may be protected from being sued for defamation.  One example of this situation is if you make a report about someone to the police. Even if it turns out your allegations were untrue, you may be protected from a defamation claim if you honestly believed what you were reporting to police or were honestly suspicious someone had committed a crime. However, you may not be protected if you repeat the allegations to other people – this could be considered unreasonable, because the only people who have an interest in investigating crime are the police.

Absolute privilege

Some communications are always privileged such as statements made in Parliament or in court proceedings. This means a defamation claim can’t be made (even if the statements are false).

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