Legal action for libel
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How to make a sensible decision whether to take legal action for libel
Any legal action for libel is likely to have wide-ranging consequences to your reputation. Legal action for libel might help improve, or fix your reputation, or it could destroy it. This article will assist you in order to arrive at the right decision, for you.
Principles in considering whether to initiate taking legal action for defamation include the timing of the libel, the source of the libel, the impact of the libel on your reputation, the existence of alternative methods to negate the impact of the libel on your reputation, which do not involve taking legal action, the costs of taking legal action for libel and the nature of the legal advice that you have received. By considering each one of these principles you should be well placed to make the most accurate decision you possibly can on whether to commence legal action for libel.
If you have found yourself facing an impending attack on your reputation through a threat of publication in the written press in one of the national newspapers or through TV programs such as InsideOut of Panorama, there are steps you can take to try and prevent those publications. The case of a newspaper article is often different from that of a TV show.
In both cases, however, your goal would be to try and remove the sting from the publication, making it pointless. In the case of a television show, particularly one which involves investigatory journalism, your focus should be on assessing the likelihood of your being able to frustrate the airing of the television program at the scheduled time.
If you succeed with this goal, and the airing of the TV show is postponed due to uncertainties about the legal position or because of the real threat of legal action for libel, it is likely that the show will eventually be abandoned and never aired at all. Being able to cast enough doubt about the truthfulness of the claims in the TV show, to the extent that the broadcasting is postponed, should be your number 1 priority. There are different strategies that you can use to cast enough doubt over the confidence the broadcaster has in their material and these are discussed elsewhere on this website.
The situation is slightly different when it comes to impending publication in a national newspaper. Generally speaking, the postponement of the publication of a newspaper article, does not necessarily mean that the publication would be abandoned. It is easier to reschedule newspaper publication than a TV show, which means that when dealing with national newspapers' investigative journalism, you might be able to buy yourself a little bit of time and often nothing more. You should then use this time wisely. Remember, it is extremely hard to obtain an injunction to prevent the publication of libelous claims. In England, the courts will nearly always take the view that the publication should go ahead and that the defamed person or organisation should then bring legal action for libel with to try and recover their legal losses and to restore their good reputation.
In this respect, the courts in England are pro-press and are often wary of the risk that the grant of an injunction to prevent publication of libelous claims, could be misused by the rich and powerful to try and suppress free speech. This, however, doesn’t mean that you can never obtain an injunction to stop the publication of libelous claims prior to the publication. If the publication is also likely to involve a breach of privacy, misuse of private information and, in some cases, even harassment, you might still be able to obtain an injunction prior to the publication.
Where the libel is being published or about to be published is an important factor to consider when assessing whether it is worthwhile to commence legal action for libel. An article in a national newspaper, with a significant readership and with a healthy online presence, could be very damaging long-term because Google tends to consider some newspapers as a reliable source of information, which means the libelous article is likely to climb up on Google search results very rapidly, and potentially stay in that position permanently.
Publication of libelous claims on a small blog site, with little SEO authority by Google, might still be damaging but it is often the sort of publication, which could be pushed down in internet search results relatively easily. Because national newspapers tend to copy stories from one another, a libelous story in the Sun newspaper is likely to be copied, with variations, by other national newspapers, which is likely to exacerbate the problem of prominence on Google search results For this reason, it is important that when the source of the libelous publication is a national newspaper, you act fast in relation to that newspaper and that you send notices to the other newspaper publishes, informing them about the impending legal action for libel against the original publisher and about the true legal position.
In the case of publication of the libelous claims in a blog post that is relatively unknown, you should consider whether you could rush the publication by threatening the publisher with legal action for libel, or whether the such threat is likely to exacerbate the situation and result in further similar publications or even in attracting the interest of the national newspaper in the story. Remember that every legal action for libel is a public claim. Newspapers are permitted to inspect legal documents, once they become part of the litigation and to publish articles about the ongoing case. This could possibly give the libel, additional public exposure throughout the life of the case. Of course, the fact that you deny the claims will also be published at the same time.
Libel defamation is often hurtful. The real question that you will need to consider before taking legal action for libel is whether the published libel has a sufficient negative impact on your reputation to warrant the risks that are involved in legal action. You might need to consult others before coming to a conclusion. In your view, you might have suffered serious harm to your reputation but upon an objective review, the reputational harm might be very limited or, in some cases, it would be at the degree that can fairly easily be fixed by means other than legal action.
To win a case for libel, you will need to show that you suffered serious harm to your reputation, which means just insignificant harm might be insufficient. If you decide to pursue legal action for defamation, which you end up losing, on a technical ground, such as that that you had suffered reputational harm but that the harm was insufficiently significant, what people will remember from your legal action for libel, is that you lost. Very few, if any, would remember the technical reason for this.
Taking legal action for libel involves significant costs and risks of further reputational damage. If there are alternative ways to handle the libel, which do not involve taking legal action, you must consider these first. The first step in considering an alternative way to deal with the libel is to find whether there are ways that you can turn the libel defamation into a strength. How can the published information be utilised to advance your long-term goals, how can you take the situation that you have found yourself in and turn it into positive PR, what other information can you add to this adverse publicity to turn it into good publicity, would be the sorts of questions you would want to ask.
You might also want to consider the costs of taking legal action for libel, which could be significant, and allocate them to a new PR campaign or to a fresh marketing initiative or an investment in a new product or service. This could be complemented with the initiation of SEO work to make the adverse publication appear insignificant or even unreliable. It might be the case that even if you decide not to take legal action for libel, it is still possible to change what is published about you by liaising with the media, influencing a positive story, and ensuring reputational damage limitation.
Legal action for libel could be expensive. How expensive, or how much it would cost to take legal action for libel would depend on the nature of the claim and on how responsive the other parties are to your claim. It is true that the significant majority of cases that start as legal action for libel, end up being settled out of court. It is estimated that only 5% of legal actions for libel end up in a trial.
It means that there are always going to be uncertainties as to the total legal costs that you might incur in pursuing a claim. Your solicitor will be able to advise you about the likely cost of your specific claim based on their experience and on their familiarity with the type of case you want to bring in and their previous work against the defendant, in the case of a newspaper or a TV station.
Remember, if you abandon your legal action for libel because you have run out of money, you will end up, having to pay not only your own legal costs but also the legal costs of your opponent. This is in addition to your opponent being able to say that your legal action for libel against them was unsuccessful, a claim which of course is likely to cause additional harm to your reputation.
The legal advice that you will receive before taking legal action for libel is one of the most important factors that will determine your choice of response to the libel. It is therefore important to obtain legal help from a lawyer that is well-versed in the legal elements of libel defamation and who has previously worked in similar cases to yours, with individuals and organisations that are in a similar situation to yours.
The legal advice needs to be balanced and your legal adviser should be able to set out the principles which would enable you to objectively analyse your situation and to come to a decision that is right for you. In term of what the law of libel says, there might be a one size fits all but when it comes to making the actual decision of whether to commence legal action for libel, each case must be judged individually, looking at the entire picture and with multi-dimensional vision. You might find there is hardly anyone who is most suited to make this type of decision than you. Your lawyer’s job is to provide you with the principles and knowledge to come to the best solution you could possibly find.
Your solicitor might be able to make libelous web pages completely disappear, but this would often come at a risk to you, financial, reputational or other. Libel law requires you to take into consideration different factors before you decide to proceed with legal action. So consider that if you are faced with a situation where you consider taking legal action for libel before you decide which way to go, you are likely to find a good strategy from a specialised internet law lawyer hugely beneficial and highly valuable.