What is slander?
Slander is one of two types of defamation.
For a statement to be defamatory, it must be false and have caused or have the potential to cause harm to the reputation of another party.
Slander covers defamatory statements that are temporary in nature and includes spoken statements, gestures as well as conduct.
Slander is not a crime. It is considered a civil wrong and as such, the subject of the statement may be able to bring a civil claim against the person accused of making the statement.
Difference between slander and libel
Slander differs from libel, which refers to defamatory statements made in permanent form, such as in print or comments made online (including on social media).
Slander does not, however, cover defamatory statements that are made in public performances of plays or broadcasting on the radio or on the television. These are deemed as libel and covered by the Theatres Act 1968 and the Broadcasting Act 1990.
Suing for slander
If a defamatory statement has been made orally about you to a third party and if it has or is likely to cause serious harm to your reputation, you may be able to bring a claim for slander.
Any claim for slander must be brought within one year of the statement being made.
For a statement to be accepted by the court as defamatory, the claimant will need to prove the following:
- that the statement occurred
- that the statement identifies the claimant
- that the statement is a lie
- that serious harm resulted to you reputation
The burden is on the claimant to prove that the defamatory statement was made. In practice, slander can be difficult to prove because of the impermanent nature of the spoken word, but not impossible. Evidence such as witnesses or a recording of the spoken statement can be used to show the statement was indeed made.
The serious harm requirement has a high threshold, and not always straightforward to satisfy. For example, serious harm could be difficult to establish if the claimant has a poor reputation, if there is limited publication of the statement or where an apology or clarification was quickly made to limit potential damage.
The claimant will also generally have to show they have suffered actual material or financial loss.
There are, however, a number of situations where slander will generally be accepted by the court, regardless of any evidence of actual material loss. These include but are not limited to,
- where the statement is intended to disparage the claimant in their profession, business or office
- where the statement claims that you have committed a crime which is punishable by imprisonment
- where the statement suggests you have a contagious or otherwise objectionable disease
Where any of these situations apply, it would still be necessary to prove that there was serious harm caused to your reputation by the statement.
Parties are expected to attempt to resolve the matter to avoid going before the court.
The majority of defamation cases do settle out of court, with settlements agreed between the parties that could include an apology and compensation in favour of the claimant.
Can a company sue for defamation?
Claims for slander can be brought by:
- an individual
- a group of individuals
- medical patients
- trade unions
Companies can sue in defamation where they can evidence the statement was defamatory and where it can be shown the statement has caused or is likely to cause serious financial loss to the organisation.
There are however exceptions. The following cannot claim for slander as organisations:
- political bodies
- governing bodies
- unincorporated associations, such as sports clubs
In addition, representatives of a deceased individual are not able to bring an action on the deceased’s behalf.
Defences to a claim of slander
There are several defences to a claim of defamation:
This is the strongest defence to an allegation of slander. If the individual who made the statement can prove that what they stated is true, then the court will deem the statement not to be slander. The responsibility for proving this is on the defendant ie the person accused of making the statement.
Previously known as ‘fair comment’, the honest opinion defence may be available where an individual must prove that the statement they made was an opinion, based on facts or information that existed before and at the time of the statement.
The defence of privilege seeks to balance the human rights of the individual or individuals who are the subject of the alleged slander with the importance of freedom of information.
When someone feels they have a duty to make known certain information to another party who has an equal interest in that information, and the conveying of the information is not malicious, they may be protected by the defence of privilege even where the statement was known to be defamatory.
What are the remedies for slander?
If agreement cannot be reached and the case proceeds to litigation, the court could award remedies including:
The court may award damages to compensate a victim of slander for harm caused by the defamation.
There are two types of damages. General damages are awarded for loss of reputation. Special damages provide compensation for any financial loss incurred as a result of the slander.
The compensation amount will be set by the court based on the nature and severity of the slander and the harm that resulted, as well as any mitigating factors such as the claimant bringing the claim close to the time limit of the claim or the defendant having apologised for or retracted the statement.
An injunction can prevent any further publication (in this case spoken) of the defamatory statement, if the claimant can prove that the intent of the original statement was malicious.
The court usually does not usually have the power to compel the defendant to apologise. However, they can
Usually, the first letter of complaint would request an apology, and where an out-of-court settlement is achieved, this will in most cases include the defendant agreeing to publish an apology.
A court, however, cannot usually force a defendant to apologise.
Why legal advice is important
Slander, by its temporary nature, can be difficult to prove. This can make it more challenging to bring a claim for slander.
A defamation law specialist will help you understand your options and guide you through the process of bringing a claim for defamation.