Defamation Law UK

Introduction to Defamation Law of The UK

Defamation Law UK

The UK’s defamation law has long been branded as having a ‘chilling effect on free speech and expression. As with many areas of the law, the court must perform a balancing act in regard to the rights of the parties involved in litigation.

In cases, regarding defamation, the rights that need to be balanced are one party’s right to freedom of expression (Art.10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) ) and the other party’s right to respect for privacy, private and family life (Art.8 ECHR).

Defamation law UK

What is defamation?

In UK law, defamation can take two forms; libel or slander.

Libel refers to publications of defamatory statements in a permanent form, such as newspaper articles or social media posts.

Slander refers to words spoken, conduct, or other non-permanent forms of expression.

It is defamatory if;

  1. a) It is published to any other person than the victim
  2. b) It identifies the victim
  3. c) It lowers the reputation of the victim.

Criticisms of the System

The Law Commission stated that ‘libel damages awarded are too high compared to sums awarded for personal injury. Cases including John v MGN [1992] and Sutcliffe v Private Eye concluded with damages of £350,000 and £600,000 respectively, whereas a person that loses a leg can expect between £35,000-£50,000. This means that we have decided that hurt feelings or loss of reputation is more serious than the loss of a limb as a society.

Also, due to fears of being sued, some news stories were not published, including a 1994 Sunday Mirror story on two people claiming Jimmy Saville had abused them. The story never became public until almost 20 years later.


  • The Defamation Act 2013 was created to address some of the issues raised in this article and to provide a guideline to the Judiciary against competing rights of freedom of speech and private and family life. However, the details are complex and beyond the scope of this news feed.

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Defamation law UK

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While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Each legal case and issue may have unique facts and circumstances, as a result legallex does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information provided. For further help and guidance, you can always rely on and seek advice from our experienced lawyers.

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