Libel and defamation in the UK: what legal steps can you take as a victim?
If you’re a victim of defamation, understanding the UK’s libel laws can be overwhelming. But luckily, there are ways to remove content from search engines and clear your name. Libel laws and the 'right to be forgotten' are two legal mechanisms you can use to rebuild your reputation. Keep reading to learn more about the legal pathways you can take as a victim of libel and defamation.
The meaning of defamation
A false statement that’s presented as a fact, and intended to damage your reputation, is defamation. It is sometimes known as defamation of character. Defamatory statements can also be made about an organisation.
What is slander?
In the eyes of the law, slander is spoken defamation. An example would be someone spreading false rumours about you through word of mouth. Statements made on TV and radio would also be considered slander, as would those expressed via online channels, like podcasts.
What is libel?
False written statements that harm your reputation are known as libel. This includes articles that make untrue claims about you in the printed and online press, as well as those on social media.
What’s the difference between libel, slander and defamation (of character)?
Libel refers specifically to published defamatory statements, while slander describes spoken claims. As it’s written, libellous defamation is considered permanent, while slander is viewed as temporary in the eyes of the law. Defamation (of character) is the umbrella term encompassing both types of damaging statements.
Examples of libel
Here are some hypothetical scenarios of libel, inspired by real-life cases.
Scenario 1: Defamatory content in a local online newspaper. You’re wrongfully accused of professional misconduct and an article appears in an online publication. You’re later acquitted, but the accusatory article, containing your name, remains online.
Scenario 2: False comments on Facebook. You’re mistakenly listed as a missing person and details spread across neighbourhood Facebook groups. The incorrect information is never deleted and is still visible.
Scenario 3: Untrue claims in online blogs and forums. You’re erroneously blamed for a business failure due to false information published in an online blog. Your details, including name and that of your old business, feature in the blog.
In each one of these cases, your name appears in the defamatory content. This means damaging claims are visible through Google when people search your name. Consequences of this include, but are not limited to:
- Emotional distress, like embarrassment
- Reduced social standing
- Poor employment prospects
- Financial harm
- Problems seeking investment
- Damage to personal or business reputation
Libel laws in the UK
Libel laws in the UK are mainly shaped by the Defamation Act 2013 and aim to protect your reputation. The law ensures libel, whether in a blog or social media post, can be potentially removed or corrected. As a victim of defamation of character, you also have the right to sue for damages.
UK defamation laws in practice
- The statement must have caused serious harm to your reputation. This means it has significantly affected your personal or professional life.
- If you can prove the claims made against you are untrue or not an honest opinion, you have grounds to take action.
- If claims feature on a website, the law allows you to seek action against the owner, be it a company or individual.
Limitations of libel laws in the UK
While the UK’s libel laws are on your side, they’re complex and full of nuances and loopholes. For example, you only have one year from the date of publication to take legal action. You’ll also need to prove the statement is false and that it’s significantly harmed your reputation. Substantial evidence is needed and this often requires the help of expensive UK libel lawyers. Aside from the tight timeframes and evidence required, the legal process is fraught with even more challenges. For instance, public interest and honest opinion is considered in legal proceedings. Balancing your right to privacy with freedom of speech can also be a hurdle in libel cases.
How to remove defamatory content from Google search engines
If you’re a victim of libel, you’ll be pleased to know you have a right to request defamatory content be removed from the internet. This is known as the 'right to be forgotten' and is part of Article 17 of the EU and UK's GDPR legislation. Compared to UK libel laws and costly court cases, Article 17 can be a simpler legal route to clearing your name.
How does the ‘right to be forgotten’ work?
Also known as the ‘right to erasure’, you can compile and submit a case through Google yourself. Check out our free guide to learn how. However, just like UK libel laws, GDPR Article 17 can be complicated, has many exceptions and is open to interpretation. This means that even well-argued requests can be denied. Rejection can lead you into a more convoluted appeal process with the Information Commissioner (ICO).
How can Internet Erasure help you remove content through the ‘right to be forgotten’?
Our privacy lawyers have successfully removed over 20,000 articles for 500+ clients. We know the ins and outs of the law, and it’s this knowledge that helps us remove damaging content about you from the internet. We’re the only reputation management company offering this service in the UK which is rated EXCELLENT on TrustPilot. Here’s what some of our clients say:
“Internet Erasure totally changed mine and my family's lives within the space of two weeks…As promised, they totally erased some false allegations that were hanging over our heads for years…Highly recommend them.”
“I tried for several years to remove a long, false and terrible article about me and my business dealings…destroying my life personally and professionally…when NO ONE else could get this removed, this team at Internet Erasure actually did…my personal reputation can now be rebuilt and the business associated with my name can start to grow again. It's such a relief.”
If your reputation has been unfairly damaged by libel, contact us today for a free consultation. We only accept cases we’re confident of winning and will do all we can to give you the fresh start you deserve.