Defamation: What you need to know

Have you ever heard of the terms defamation, libel or slander? You might often hear these terms, but may not be sure what exactly they entail, and why they exist.  

The law of defamation is concerned with protecting one’s reputation from unjust attacks. Defamation laws ensure that a person has the right to their good name. The Defamation Act of 2009 provides that a defamatory statement is one which would injure your reputation in the eyes of reasonable members of society. If it is found that your character has been defamed, you may be eligible to make a claim for damages or compensation. At Martin A. Harvey & Co. Solicitors, we have extensive experience in dealing with Circuit and High Court defamation proceedings. 

What is defamation 

A defamatory statement is one that reasonable members of society would think damages your reputation. However, a statement is not defamatory if it is true or substantially true. You may also have heard of the terms ‘slander’ or ‘libel’. These terms were replaced by the umbrella term of ‘defamation’ under the Defamation Act 2009. 

To take a case for defamation, you must demonstrate that the statement in question was ‘published’ to at least one other person – and the one other person cannot be the person who is taking the complaint.  The method of publication could include: 

  • A conversation with another person 
  • Comments posted on social media sites 
  • Newspaper articles (digital and print)
  • Blog posts / websites 
  • Speeches

There are many different scenarios in which defamation may take place. Some of these include: 

  • Accusation of theft 
  • Defamatory reference (from a previous employer)
  • Defamation by a media organisation 
  • Fraud accusation
  • False imprisonment – detention by security in a retail business following a false accusation of theft. 

Defamation and Social Media 

The Defamation Act 2009 does not set out any laws that are specific to social media posts or social media companies. However, if an allegation or opinion is posted about a person, that person can still have a case for defamation – even if the piece was published anonymously. 

How do I make a defamation complaint?

If you believe that a defamatory statement has been made against you, and that it damages your reputation, you can take a complaint to court. Defamation cases must be made no more than one year after the defamatory statement was issued. For a case to be successful, the person making the claim must be able to prove that: 

  • The statement made was fales 
  • The statement was published 
  • A specific person is identified or recognisable through the statement. 

While preparing your complaint, you should detail the history of the event including all records of publication or recordings of the defamatory incident or statement being made. Gather your witness statements, and source any other sources such as CCTV footage that might assist with your case. 

Outside of taking a complaint to court, there are other options that may be available to you, including: 

  • Making a complaint to the organisation that published the statement; 
  • Making a complaint to the Press Council or Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. 

However, it is important to note that in the above scenarios, a complaint cannot be investigated where legal action has already commenced. 

Are there any defences to defamation?

The Defamation Act 2009 sets out a number of defences and privileges against a legal action for defamation. These are:

  1. The statement is not true: in this situation, the person who made the statement will need to prove that the statement is true / substantially true. If the statement is not true, it is only considered defamatory if it damages the reputation of the person making the complaint.
  2. Absolute privilege: some statements, if made in an official capacity or as part of a testimony, will have the protection of absolute privilege. These include statements made:
    1. By a TD in the Dáil, a Senator in the Seanad, or an MEP in the European Parliament
    2. By a judge whilst performing their duties 
    3. By another person in a court as part of court proceedings (such as solicitors or parties to a legal claim)
    4. As part of an Oireachtas Committee
    5. In a tribunal of inquiry, or commission of investigation
  1. Qualified privilege: statements can be privileged, but may then lose their privilege if the statement was made maliciously, or if the person later refuses to correct an inaccuracy.
  2. Honest opinion: an opinion is honestly held if the person making the statement believed the truth of the allegation at the time of making it. It may apply where:
    1. The opinion is honestly held
    2. The opinion is based on allegations of facts that are set out with the statement, or known to the person complaining of defamation, or based allegations of fact that are privileged 
  1. Fair and reasonable publication: applies where a statement is made in good faith about something that is in the public interest. 
  1. Innocent publication: may apply where a person is not responsible for the statement or the publication of the statement, but contributed to distributing the statement in some way.
    1. This defence has been used by social media companies for defamatory posts made on their platforms. 

If you have been subject to defamation, be it in the public arena or at work, you may be entitled to make a claim for defamation and compensation. At Martin A. Harvey & Co. Solicitors, our team is experienced in all areas of defamation law in Ireland and would be happy to advise and assist you. You can contact us here or freephone 1800 396 396.