You may decide to bring an action in defamation if you believe that a person or publication has harmed your reputation by making false statements about you. The law setting out this right of action is contained in the DEFAMATION ACT 1992 and in a long history of case-law (decisions from the courts).
Defamation law attempts to maintain a balance between freedom of expression and the protection of people's reputations.
To bring a successful defamation action you (the "plaintiff") will need to establish the following elements:
You do not have to prove that you suffered any specific damage or loss, as the law assumes that you have suffered loss if a statement is defamatory of you.
However, the rules are slightly different if you are a body corporate, in which case you must prove that the defendant has caused, or is likely to cause you monetary loss.
The courts have given a number of different definitions of what is "defamatory", including a statement that tends to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, or that tends to cause the person to be shunned or avoided, or that tends to cause the person to be exposed to hatred, contempt or ridicule.
The particular words used are assessed in their context, but examples of what have been considered to be defamatory statements are:
If it is found that the words do convey a defamatory meaning, the defendant will be liable even if this was not intended.
There are a number of defences available to someone who is being sued for defamation, including:
For a fuller discussion of these defences, see How to defend a defamation action.
There are a number of possible remedies available to you: