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What is a Letter of Claim?

In relation to defamation claims, under the Pre-Action Protocol for Media and Communications Claims that was brought into force in October 2019, parties are encouraged to exchange information at any early stage in proceedings to try and assist in resolving the issues without court intervention. The first stage in the process is for the claimant to issue a letter of claim (also known as a letter before action and previously known as a cease and desist). There is a one-year time limit for serving a letter of claim in defamation cases.

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What is the process?

The letter of claim is the first stage in the pre-action protocol. The purpose of the protocol is to assist the parties with a clear framework for claims that allows for an early and suitable resolution of the issues. Parties should ensure that they are following this process to demonstrate their willingness to resolve the issues without the need for court intervention. Parties that refuse to cooperate with this protocol risk being ordered by the court to pay extra costs for not attempting to resolve or reduce the issues without the need for litigation. The parties are expected to make sure that they are acting reasonably in relation to costs at all time to ensure they are kept proportionate to the seriousness and level of the complaint.

The letter of claim

The claimant starts proceedings by issuing a letter of claim. This needs to include the following details:

  • The name of the claimant.
  • The nature of the claim including the remedies sought.
  • Information to show that England and Wales is the most relevant forum for the case.
  • Funding arrangements.
  • Details of the specific publication that had the statement.
  • The statement that is the issue and if possible the date of publication.
  • What the claimant states was implied by the statement.
  • Which facts are inaccurate or unsupportable.
  • What serious harm has been caused, or is likely to be caused, by the statement. For businesses this will need to included details on the serious financial loss that will be caused.
  • For slander or malicious falsehoods, the special damage or pecuniary loss that has been caused.
  • For malicious falsehoods, the details of the malice.
  • How the claimant is identifiable from the statement.
  • Any special facts that are relevant to the interpretation of the statement or particular damage caused.

Defendants Response to the letter of claim

The defendant needs to send a full response as soon as possible. If the defendant cannot do this within the timeframe set (usually 14 days) then they should state when they will respond.

The response needs to state:

  • If the claim is accepted in whole or in part and the relevant remedies that they are prepared to offer.
  • If the claim is rejected, then the reasons for this including any statutory exemption or relevant defence.
  • If the response is for more information, the defendant needs to say what is needed and why.
  • For defamation or malicious falsehoods claims, the defendant needs to state what they meant the statement to imply.
  • If the claim is anonymous, the defendant needs to state if this is accepted.

What happens next?

There is an expectation that the parties will try to resolve their issues via negotiation or alternative dispute resolution methods. The courts should be viewed as a last resort.

If the claimant is successful with their claim, then there are various remedies including:

  • Damages (both compensatory and exemplary).
  • Costs.
  • Injunctions to prevent further defamatory statements.
  • A retraction or correct in relation to the statement.
  • An apology.

The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.

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