While we all know about our rights to free speech, some things that you say or write could land you in hot water.
In Queensland, there is legislation (Defamation Act 2005 (Qld) (Defamation Act)) to protect an individual’s reputation from unfair personal attacks and could result in the ability to sue the person who has defamed you.
To be successful in a court case, an individual must demonstrate:
- The material has been made known to third party (otherwise known as publication). Publication can be made verbally and physically;
- The plaintiff must show that the published material could be reasonable taken as about him/her; and
- The plaintiff must show that the questionable material is in fact of defamatory nature.
While a single statement may convey some defamatory meanings and warrant a case, multiple accusations in the same publication will only give rise to the one case.
Who can sue for defamation?
Not everyone can sue for defamation. This is only an option for individuals, certain not-for-profit corporations and organisations with 10 employees or less employees.
Who can be sued for defamation?
Any natural persons, companies, local governments and incorporated associations may be liable for defamation. Any person who has contributed to the publication of defamatory material may also be held liable.
Is there a time limitation on a defamation lawsuit?
The individual claiming defamation only has 12 months from the date of publication to start legal proceedings against the publisher of the content.
What are the defences to a defamation claim?
While a variety of material that is published can be seen as defamatory, the person who has published them will often rely on certain defences to these accusations to protect themselves. The Defamation Act provides several defences, such as:
- Grounds of truth: When the defendant can prove that the defamatory material was substantially true, and therefore the imputations did not cause further harm to the plaintiff’s reputation.
- Absolute privilege: Where defamatory material was published on an occasion of absolute privilege; such as during the course of proceedings of a parliamentary body, court or tribunal.
- Qualified privilege: For a successful proceeding in defamation, the plaintiff must show that the defendants remarks were made in malice with ill intent, and not in honest conversation.
- Fair comment: The defendant may not be held liable if they can prove that the matter was purely an expression of their honest opinion (as opposed to statement of fact).
- Innocent dissemination: This defence is application where the defamatory matter was distributed by an employee or subordinate distributor. For example, if you are a book seller or internet service provider and you are unknowingly publishing defamatory content, you will not be held liable.
- Triviality: If defendant can show that the defamatory material was trivial and therefore, the plaintiff was unlikely to suffer any harm by its publication.
Please note that the defences listed above are the ones commonly sought, other defences are still available and may be applicable to certain circumstances.
If you are unsure about how to respond to a defamation proceeding against you, or if you want to pursue an action in defamation against someone, it is best to seek legal advice from a lawyer who specialises in defamation.