Are you in need of a defamation lawyer in Sydney or elsewhere in Australia? O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors are one of Sydney’s leading defamation law firms. If you believe that your reputation or character has been damaged by false allegation or untrue statements, then you may have an action to sue for defamation.
What is defamation?
Defamation is where someone’s reputation is damaged by false statements, either spoken (slander) or written (libel) by another person, entity or organization, such as a newspaper or other media outlet, or even government, where those false or unsubstantiated statements are communicated to one or more third parties.
Defamatory communication is communication that is likely to damage your reputation by:
- exposing you to shame, ridicule, hatred or contempt, or
- lowers others’ estimation of you or
- means you are avoided or shunned.
Defamation Law in NSW
Currently, the law in NSW regarding defamation is set out in the Defamation Act 2005, and it no longer specifies a difference between defamatory content which is libellous (in writing or other permanent format, such as images or videos) or slanderous (verbally spoken or otherwise transient). This means that a person can initiate legal proceedings against someone who has made defamatory statements that are either spoken or in writing.
What constitutes defamation?
You may not have a claim for defamation simply because you do not like something that someone has said about you even if it is untrue. Several factors need to be considered:
- What were the exact words that were said and/or published?
- How widely disseminated was the statement?
- A private message in a group chat, for example, is not defamatory as it has not been made public.
- How much, if any, damage have you suffered?
- You must have suffered some sort of harm. Feeling upset or offended by a statement is insufficient for a defamation claim.
- Examples of possible damage might include damage to your public image or reputation.
- You might also have suffered financial damage as a result of job loss etc. which was a direct result of the defamatory content.
Who can I sue for defamation?
There are many possible parties that could be sued in a defamation case. They can include the:
- original author or
- person quoted or interviewed,
- TV / radio or other broadcast media, or
- web site owners or social media channels.
Even if you have been vilified by defamatory statements by an individual on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, you may have recourse to sue for damages. This will depend on the circumstances of your situation as indicated by the factors mentioned above.
O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors have successfully sued for defamation on behalf of many clients, resulting in substantial cash settlements if the defendant chooses not to fight the case, or if we do end up going to court, establishing damages and liability leading to equally substantial awards of money.
What is the process in taking an action for defamation?
The first step is to write to the publisher expressing the concern and asking for them to take action to remedy it (usually in the form of removing the article, publishing an apology, paying compensation and paying legal costs).
If a settlement is not reached then the next step is to consider initiating legal proceedings. If your defamation claim is successful in court, you may receive:
- Compensation for non-economic loss (e.g. damage to your reputation);
- Compensation for economic loss (e.g. for loss of job prospects as a result of the defamatory statement), and
- Payment of legal costs.
What are the defences to a defamation claim?
The most common defence to defamation is truth. If what is being said/written about you is essentially true then you will not have an action.
The next most common is opinion or comment. If someone calls you a liar then they are asserting a fact and that is defamation. But if someone calls you ugly then they are expressing an opinion and that is not defamation.
The next most common is qualified privilege. This involves a group of people sharing a common interest. If a member of that group shares something with other members for a purpose relevant to the interests of that group then the defence applies. So, if you are a member of an association and someone within that association writes a letter to the association making assertions about you then they may be protected by this privilege.
Defamation Time Limits
There is a strict time limit of 12 months from the publication of defamatory content until the time you sue the defendant. It is important to note that this means the date when people are able to read it. If it is a letter in an envelope, then the date the reader opened it. If it is an online article then the date that people read it. If it is a print newspaper then the date the newspaper was available to be read.
If you believe that you have been defamed, contact our lawyers without hesitation to determine if you have a valid claim as a plaintiff. In many cases, the matter can be resolved by having us sending a cease and desist letter to the publisher or communicator of the defamatory material.
We can negotiate with the publisher of any defamatory material before taking any court action, as there can be serious implications if you start defamation proceedings after refusing what the court may consider as a reasonable offer to settle the matter.
No Win, No Fee
In limited circumstances, we will consider running a defamation matter on a no win, no fee basis.
In order to do this, we must be satisfied of the following:
- There is a high probability that your case would be successful;
- There is a high probability that the other side has the ability to pay our legal costs and is likely to do so if we win;
- You do not have the capacity to pay your costs upfront; and
- There is a strong element of social justice in your case.
Almost all of the cases that we run on this basis are against media companies.
That said, we are willing to give consideration to proceeding on this basis with any matter and will advise you at the initial conference whether it is possible.
Examples of matters we have successfully run on a no win, no fee basis include:
- Suing the ABC for defaming an Aboriginal Elder, resulting in the largest defamation award ever in the Northern Territory;
- Suing a prominent magazine for defaming an elderly lady resulting in a significant published apology and monetary settlement;
- Suing a variety of newspapers for defamatory comments resulting in published apologies and monetary settlements;
- Suing a mining company in relation to a defamatory email resulting in an apology and monetary settlement;
- Suing prominent TV news channels for defamatory images resulting in broadcast apologies and monetary settlement.
We also provide defence representation for people who are subject to defamation claims. This includes situations where you have received a cease and desist request letter.
Interesting Defamation Reads
Read some of our interesting articles that we have written on the topic of defamation.
- Defamation: Recreation for the rich or a tool for the powerless?
- Actors make defamation claims against newspapers for #metoo inspired sexual assault allegations
- U.S. radio host sued for defamatory statements made during 2012 school shooting
- Former Liberal MP wins defamation case against local newspaper
Contact O’Brien Criminal and Civil Solicitors on (02) 9261 4281 to set up a free initial consultation with our defamation lawyer.