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21 Dec 2022


Commercial litigation

Defining Defamation

With Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama airing on Channel 4, William Watkins from our Commercial Litigation team takes a look at the principles of defamation, and the do's and don'ts.

“It’s………Rebekah Vardy’s account.” The quote that launched 1000 memes, tabloid articles, fancy dress outfits and a multi-million pound Court claim in the High Court of Justice. With Vardy v Rooney: A Courtroom Drama airing on Channel 4, it is the case that keeps on giving, financially speaking for 3rd parties, less so for Mrs Vardy.  Possibly the most high-profile Defamation case there has been, certainly in the UK, we look at defining Defamation, along with the do’s and don’ts.

Broken down into its simplest form, Defamation involves the publication of a statement which would lower the estimation of an individual or company in the mind of ordinary members of the public.  If the statement is one that would cause someone to think less of the individual or the company, then it would meet the criteria of being defamatory.

Changes in the law to make it more difficult to bring defamation claims makes it a requirement that the comments must cause or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the individual or company that the comments have been made in relation of.  This is a test of the evidence, with the injured party required to prove serious harm, rather than the maker of the comments needing to disprove it, although there will be scenarios where the comments themselves are such, that it will be self-evident that the comments have caused serious harm, such as making false allegations involving serious criminal offences.

There are a number of Defences that can be put forward to argue that the comments are not defamatory, including that they are based on truth, honest opinion or they are in the public interest.  The last of those Defences would be most commonly used by journalists to prevent high net worth individuals using wealth and privilege to silence criticism.   News editors across most main line publications have recently come out to fight so called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (“SLAPP”) and law firms and solicitors have been warned that they face sanction if they participate in SLAPP litigation.

Should the Defences raised fail and the Court finds that the comments were Defamatory, the Court can order payment of damages and an Injunction to prevent future publication of the complained of material, or similar defamatory comments, as well as being able to make an Order that the website the comment is posted on removes the statement and does not distribute the comments further.

Ultimately, Mrs Vardy failed in her in her Claim and it has left many scratching their heads how such a case did not settle before Trial, as most Defamation cases do.

For the average person who is not married to a millionaire footballer, you too must consider what you post online.  A comment made on your Facebook page is not to your closest family and friends, it is made to the world and if you make defamatory comments, you risk litigation.

Harding Evans are specialists in Defamation law and have acted for clients across the spectrum of defamatory comments.  If you believe you have been a victim of defamatory comments, contact our specialist Commercial Litigation team via email, or call us on 01633 244233.


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