Defamation is when someone spreads false rumours about you and as a result hurts your reputation. Basically, you can sue someone for defamation if they say something untrue to other people that is likely to make ordinary people think less of you. The goal of suing someone for defamation is both to set the record straight and to get compensation (money) for the harm you’ve suffered.
But it’s important to remember that suing someone is very complicated and expensive and there are often other ways to resolve the situation. Please see our section on “What can I do if I have been defamed” below.
First, at least one person (other than the person who is being defamed) has to see or hear the false information.
Second, the material must be such that if an average person saw or heard, it, that person would think less of you. For example, it can be defamatory for someone to:
- say you are dishonest or disloyal,
- ridicule you,
- accuse you of committing a crime, or
- say you have a disease.
It may also be defamatory for someone to imply something negative about you.
- Ask the person to take down the information: if someone has defamed you, you can ask them to stop publishing the information right away (for example remove it from their website).
- If someone has published something on social media about you, you can also report it to social media and ask them to take it down (Facebook, Twitter etc).
If you want more information about how to report things, please have a look at our page on cyberbullying.
- A more serious option is to sue the person responsible for defaming you, and you can also sue anyone involved in publishing the false information (for example a publisher or newspaper). It’s important to remember that there are time limits for suing someone for defamation – it has to be done within 1 year of when they published the information.
Unfortunately, suing someone for defamation can be very expensive because you have to pay for a lawyer and court fees. It can also take a long time and end up being very complicated. Because of this, we encourage you to try other ways to resolve the issue first, like asking the person to apologise or ask them to remove the information they have posted about you.
If you believe you have been defamed and you want to take the matter to court, you should get legal advice first because defamation law can be very complicated. If the court finds that the information was false and defamatory, you may be awarded money to compensate you for damage to your reputation, your hurt feelings and any economic loss you have suffered because of the defamation.
If you believe that you are about to be defamed, you can bring an urgent court action to stop the material from being published. You can also ask the person not to publish it and warn them that what they could be doing is defaming you.
Publishing something which might seem defamatory won’t be against the law if:
- the information is substantially true,
- the information is published with the consent of the person being defamed, or
- the information wasn’t very important and it is unlikely that the person’s reputation will actually be damaged.
This page was last updated 4 May 2015.