Supreme Court rules on serious harm

Judgment has today been handed down by the Supreme Court in the case of Lachaux v IPL & Anor, in which clarification has been given as to the proper construction of section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013. Has that section materially altered the law of defamation? The court has unanimously held that it has. Claimants must now show by reference to the actual facts – and not merely any defamatory tendency in the words complained of – that there has been caused or is likely in the future to be caused by the publication, serious reputational harm. In the case of corporations trading for profit, they must additionally show that they have suffered serious financial loss on account of such reputational harm, and “this necessarily calls for an investigation of the actual impact of the statement”. An otherwise defamatory statement that is published for example only to a small number of people, to people none of whom believe it, or to people among whom the claimant had no reputation to be harmed, will not pass the section 1 test and any action based upon it will fail.

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Court of Appeal’s analysis and upheld that contended for by the newspapers, but their appeal failed on the particular facts of Mr Lachaux’s case.

Jonathan Price appeared as junior counsel for the Appellants (with David Price QC)

Judgement can be found here.