This was the first case before the Court of Appeal concerning meaning and effect of s.1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 (DEA 2013) as to serious harm. C sued four publications by three defendant publishers over articles.
C contended that each of these articles was seriously defamatory of him and that the publication of each caused or was likely to cause serious harm to his reputation so satisfying the test in s.1(1) of the DEA 2013 that: “A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant”. Below, the court had held that the s.1(1) requirement was satisfied with respect to each of these articles. The Ds appealed.
The Court held that: s.1(1) created a threshold from substantiality (a product of case law) to seriousness; defamation law’s presumption of damage, accrual on publication, the established position on limitation and the single meaning rule were all unaffected; issues of serious harm can be dealt with at hearings on meaning and that if the meaning so assessed is evaluated as seriously defamatory it will ordinarily then be proper to draw an inference of serious reputational harm; courts should ordinarily be slow to direct a preliminary issue, involving substantial evidence, on a dispute as to whether serious reputational harm has been caused or is likely to be caused by the published statement; a defendant disputing the existence of serious harm may in an appropriate case issue a Part 24 summary judgment application or issue a Jameel application; all interlocutory process in such cases should be sought to be managed in a way that is proportionate and cost-effective and actively promotes the overriding objective.
The Court made clear that it was not commenting on s.1(2) DEA 2013 (serious harm in respect of bodies trading for profit).