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If the claimant wins

Damages

A claimant is entitled to an award of damages. There is no fixed tariff for damages. So they are difficult to predict. The following factors are relevant:-

(a) The seriousness of the defamatory statement.

(b) The size and influence of the circulation.

(c) Whether the claimant has suffered any financial loss.

(d) Whether the claimant has suffered actual injury to reputation e.g. exclusion.

(e) The conduct of the defendant. Where the defendant has behaved in a high-handed manner or been guilty of misconduct, this can “aggravate” i.e. increase the damages. In contrast, where the defendant has behaved responsibly e.g. by promptly publishing an apology it can “mitigate” i.e. reduce the damages. Where the defendant advances a justification defence which fails this can substantially aggravate the damages even if the defence is put forward in good faith.

(f) Where there is an element of truth in the statement, but not sufficient to establish justification. If the tribunal believes that the justification defence has only barely failed it could award only a nominal sum in damages. Where it is proved that the claimant has a bad reputation this can mitigate damages.

(g) The sums awarded in personal injury cases for pain and suffering.

It is not necessary for a claimant to prove any financial loss in order to be awarded substantial damages. Damages which are not linked to financial loss are known as general damages. Damages which are linked to financial loss are known as special damages.  There is unofficial fixed ceiling for general damages of around £265,000. This corresponds to the award for pain and suffering in a case of quadriplegia.

Injunction

This is a court order restraining the defendant from publishing the same or similar defamatory allegations. A claimant who wins will generally be entitled to an injunction unless it is obvious that the defendant will not repeat the allegations. A defendant who breaches the order can be fined or sent to prison for contempt of court.

Publication of a summary of the judgment

Under section 12 of the Defamation Act 2013 a defendant may be ordered to publish a summary of the judgment and the court may determine its wording and method of publication if this cannot be agreed.

A newspaper or magazine defendant may be bound by Independent Press Standards Organisation’s Code of Conduct that requires it to report the outcome of libel proceedings in which it is involved.

Apology

A defendant cannot be forced to apologise. Many claims settle before trial, in which case, it is common for the defendant to agree to apologise, often in the form of an agreed statement read in the High Court (which will be reported by the media if the subject matter is of interest).

Costs

These will generally be paid by the defendant if the claimant wins and vice-versa, although all of the costs of the winning party may not be recoverable.