Libel claims do not have to show actual damage, judges rule

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Sep 13, 2017
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Three publications are being sued for libel by a French citizen

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An individual can sue over likely damage to reputation rather than having to show actual harm has been caused, senior judges have ruled.

In a test case in the Court of Appeal, judges said that libel claimants did not need to show evidence of damage to their reputations, but could infer it from the seriousness of the statement made, the extent of publication and the influence and repute of the paper or broadcaster.

The ruling yesterday from Lord Justice McFarlane, Lord Justice Davis and Lady Justice Sharp, came in a case involving Bruno Lachaux, a French citizen working in Dubai, who is suing over articles in the Huffington Post, The Independent and the London Evening Standard.

The articles contained accounts of events in the UAE including proceedings against Lachaux’s ex-wife for allegedly kidnapping the couple’s son. 

The publications appealed a High Court ruling that they had libelled Lachaux and that serious harm did not need to be shown. Yesterday the appeal judges dismissed that appeal.

Nigel Tait, a defamation lawyer with the London law firm Carter-Ruck, said: “This is the most important libel judgment for many years. It gives a robust and common sense interpretation of section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 which will be very helpful to practitioners and clients who at last know where they stand.

“The decision stamps down hard on the cottage industry that has grown up around unnecessary trials about whether an otherwise defamatory statement causes a defendant serious harm.”

Tait argued that the Court of Appeal had “made clear that this issue can be inferred from the seriousness of an allegation and where it is published, and can therefore usually be determined without the need for a separate hearing. This reduces costs, complexity and delay, which is surely good for everyone”.

Lachaux’s solicitor, Daniel Taylor of Taylor Hampton, said: “We welcome today’s significant ruling from the Court of Appeal which will have the effect of reducing the time and cost of libel actions going forward.”

Defamation lawyers say that the ruling will end the proliferation of pre-trial hearings on the issue of serious harm that has occurred since 2014, reducing cost and delay.

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