The Defamation Act 2013 Section 1 – Serious Harm

Angus Young looks at the effect of the Supreme Court Judgment in Lachaux v Independent Print [2019] UKSC 27.

Over five years after the introduction of the Defamation Act 2013 (“the Act”), the Supreme Court has handed down judgement in the case of Lachaux v Independent Print. The Supreme Court dismissed the Defendant newspapers’ appeal (good news for Mr Lachaux) and gave a judgment that clarifies the approach the courts will take in applying Section 1(1) of the Act for future antagonists in libel claims.

Section 1(1) holds that a statement will not be found to be defamatory by a Court unless it has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.

The High Court was asked to deliberate on the application of this new threshold in 2015 when aerospace engineer Bruno Lachaux brought libel claims against the publishers of the Huffington Post, the Independent and the Evening Standard. Broadly Mr Lachaux complained that the articles reported allegations of domestic violence made by his ex-wife and allegations that he had kidnapped his and his ex-wife’s son; allegations he denied.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of The High Court (albeit with different reasoning), two of the Defendants then appealed to the Supreme Court and Lords Sumption, Hodge, Kerr, Wilson and Briggs have now given their judgment.

The key finding for future libel claimants is that the common law presumption that a defamatory statement has caused harm has not survived the introduction of the Act. A libel claimant must demonstrate that serious harm has been caused to their reputation with reference to the actual facts about the impact of publication and not just to the meaning of the words.

Whilst it will no longer be possible for the words alone to support an inference of serious harm, the judgment is helpful to potential claimants inasmuch as, at paragraph 21 Lord Sumption confirmed the initial High Court finding that inferences of fact as to the seriousness of the harm done to a claimant’s reputation can be drawn from:

  • the scale of the publication (ie the extent of the readership or the number of publishees);
  • the fact that the statements complained of had come to the attention of at least one identifiable person in the United Kingdom who knew the Claimant;
  • the likelihood that the allegations would come to the attention of others who either knew the Claimant or would come to know him in future; and
  • the gravity of the statements themselves.

Further, while a Claimant would be entitled to produce evidence from those who had read the statements about its impact on them their case need not rely on such evidence.

Please click here for further information about defamation claims and if you feel a publication has caused serious harm to your reputation and you would like advice in respect of a potential defamation claim you can contact us through our website.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.