Defamation of Character
What is defamation of character?
Defamation will arise when an intentional false utterance is published (communicated to/heard/read by a third party) which tends to lower the reputation, or creates a negative image of the subject about whom it is directed, in the eyes of right-thinking people.
Defamation encompasses both written statements, known as libel, and spoken statements known as slander (that relate to the subject either expressly or impliedly) and can occur in a number of different circumstances for instance:
- Statements made on the radio or tv
- Statements or claims made in a magazine or newspaper
- Publications or articles on the internet, Facebook, twitter or on blogs
Your reputation is extremely important and false, inaccurate and misleading statements about you could greatly impact on the quality of your home and professional life.
Everyday examples of defamation include:
- Wrongfully accusing a customer of shoplifting
- Wrongfully accused of paying for goods with counterfeit notes
- Wrongfully accused of leaving a restaurant without paying
- Publishing an untrue article
Call our Dublin offices today on 01-5547854 if you would like to discuss your case with our experienced defamation lawyer.
How is my reputation protected in Ireland?
In this jurisdiction, citizens have a Constitutional right to protect their good name and the Defamation Act 2009, which came into force on the 1st January 2010, introduced important changes to defamation law and procedures. The Act abolished the more traditional distinction between ‘libel’ (written defamation) and ‘slander’(spoken defamation) and introduced the ‘tort of defamation’ which encompasses false statements whether spoken, written, broadcast on TV or radio or published on the internet.
Initial considerations regarding a claim in defamation:
What is the likely cost of bringing an action?
These types of claims will usually be complex and require specialist legal advice and representation which could be costly.
You will usually need to pay your legal costs in advance including court office stamp duty fees and solicitors and barristers professional fees. If your claim is successful however, these costs will be recoverable.
Will the defendant be able to pay damages?
You should only consider bringing a case against the defendant if you think they have the financial means to pay you damages in the event of a successful action. If not, you could be left without any compensation.
Has there been actual damage to your reputation?
In order to bring an action you will need to know the precise remarks or statement that was published about you.
The remarks or statement will need to have been communicated and/or published and be sufficiently wide enough so as to lower your reputation or create a negative image of you in the eyes of right-thinking people. You cannot bring an action for defamation if the remarks made were largely true.
You could be defamed even where the published material doesn’t specifically name you. For example a photo of someone with a derogatory caption may be sufficient.
Am I too late to bring a claim?
Any claim must be filed within one year from the date of publication but there is provision in the 2009 Act for a Court to extend this to two years where a claimant has established that it would be in the interests of justice to grant an extension of time and has also shown that the publisher will not be unduly prejudiced by such extension of time.
You can call our Dublin offices on 01-5547854 if you think you have a case and would like to discuss the matter further with our experienced defamation lawyer.
What are the likely Damages to be awarded?
When an injured party succeeds in proving defamation, the jury may award damages as compensation for the injury caused. Damages will vary depending on the nature of the statement and the extent of the publication.
The highest ever damages award made in this jurisdiction in a defamation case was €10 million in November 2010 to businessman Donal Kinsella.
Under the 2009 Act, the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court was increased to €50,000 in defamation matters, which may ensure that more matters are instigated in the Circuit Court and thus reducing the potential legal costs of claims.
In addition, the Act allows a judge sitting with a jury in a defamation case to give directions to the jury in relation to ‘the matter of damages.’
The judge will often ask the jury to consider some of the following when considering the question of damages to be awarded:
- the nature and gravity of the original publication
- the means of publication, (audio visual media, print etc) and the possible lasting nature of same
- extent of circulation of the defamatory statement
- any offers of apology or amends made
Could the defendant have a defence?
There are a total of nine defences available to a defendant.
There will be no action available where a person has consented to publication of the statement/material.
If the publisher is able to prove that the material published is true in all material respects then the claim will fail.
In certain circumstances a publication made may fall under the protection of absolute privilege and the claimant will fail in their action even where the statement has been made maliciously. These circumstances include where a statement is made in either House of the Oireachtas by a Senator or TD or where a statement has been made in a court judgment for example.
4. Qualified Privilege
This defence may apply in circumstances where a person has a legal, moral or a social duty to impart the information and the recipient has a similar duty to receive the communication and is particularly relevant to the media.
The defence will not be available however if the statement is malicious.
5. Innocent publication
This defence will be made out if it is proved:
- A person who is not the original author of the material at issue and took reasonable care in relation to the publication of same
- And had no reason to believe that he/she contributed to or caused the defamatory publication or had no reason to believe that his/her actions would lead to defamation proceedings.
This is especially relevant for repetition of a defamatory statement as this counts as a separate act of defamation.
6. Honest Opinion
There will be a defence to the publication if it can be proved that the statement consisted of an opinion that was honestly held by the publisher and:
- at the time of publication, the defendant believed in the truth of the opinion;
- the opinion was based on proven (or honestly believed) allegations of fact that were known to those to whom the statement was published, or
- the opinion was based on proven (or reasonably likely) allegations of fact which were privileged and the opinion related to a matter of public interest.
7. Fair and reasonable publication on a matter of public interest
This will apply when it can be proved that the statement was made in good faith on a subject of public interest for the benefit of the public however the statement must be in all of the circumstances fair and reasonable.
8. Offer of Amends
The publisher of a defamatory statement may make an offer of amends to the injured party and this must be in writing. They could chose to publish a correction or an apology or make a financial payment to the injured party.
An apology may be published as a part-defence and will be considered as mitigation of damages.
Why chose us to represent you?
We are experts in the field of defamation and over the years we have developed the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to handle a broad range of such cases.
We understand that your reputation is valuable and important and we always strive to seek the best resolution for you.
Here is an example of the type of case we have represented our clients in:
A customer who was wrongfully accused of shoplifting
Earlier this year we represented a client who was wrongly accused of shoplifting in a DIY store. Our client subsequently provided the accuser with a valid receipt for the goods that had allegedly been stolen. The assertion that he had stolen the goods was therefore untrue and resulted in damage to our client’s reputation and good name. Our client suffered further embarrassment as the accusation took place in full view of other customers and staff members. We took a defamation case against the store and successfully negotiated an out of court settlement where we obtained an apology and substantial compensation for our client.
You can call our Dublin offices on 01-5547854 to speak with our defamation lawyer or book in with us for a consultation.
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