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The meaning of defamation, libel and slander

24th November 2020

Reputation and privacy is a very complex field and so it is essential to understand the different meanings, and the differences, between the key terms involved.


While there is no statutory definition of defamation, it is widely defined as the publication of an untrue statement, which refers to a person, to a third party which is either harmful, or likely to be harmful, to the reputation of that person.

Defamation takes two forms: libel and slander. Whether the statement is a libel or a slander depends on how it was published. In both instances, if a claim is successful, you will receive compensation with the amount depending on the seriousness of the allegation. In some instances, you may also be able to get an injunction to prevent any further publication.


An untrue statement would be considered a slander if it was published through a transient form of communication, which is generally speech but could also include things like physical gestures. Unlike libel, in cases of slander the claimant must prove that the defamatory statement has actually caused damage to them. There are some exceptions to this however, when slander is actionable per se. This means that the damage is assumed and includes accusations of committing an imprisonable crime, having a contagious disease or being incapable in their office, role or business.


Libel is the more common form of defamation and relates to a defamatory publication which is permanent. This usually relates to written materials (newspapers, books, magazines) but also covers allegations aired on TV or radio.

England and Wales is often perceived to be an advantageous jurisdiction for those seeking defamation claims and so has seen a number of very high profile defamation cases.

For instance, in 2020, Johnny Depp was involved in particularly high profile libel case against the publishers of the Sun after the newspaper published an article with the headline: Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be genuinely happy casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?.


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