Defamation is the act of damaging the reputation of an individual, group or company. There are two types of defamation: libel and slander.
Libel concerns remarks which have been written, whereas slander concerns remarks which have been spoken.
Libel can take many forms, including email, newspapers or websites. If accused of defamation an individual will have to prove what they have said or written is true. The usual burden of proof is therefore reversed in defamation cases, with the defendant having to prove their case. Should the defendant be unable to prove that the remarks are true, they can be sued for damages to compensate the loss caused by the remarks.
Simon Myerson KC leads a strong team of barristers experienced in defamation. Simon represented Melvyn Levi in 2012 against The Leeds United owner, Ken Bates who rejected accusations that he used his column in the matchday programme to pursue a personal “vendetta” against the club’s former director Melvyn. The Levis’ sued Bates personally, Leeds United and the club-owned Yorkshire Radio station, claiming that several of Bates’s programme articles and two Yorkshire Radio broadcasts amounted to harassment of the couple. Bates, giving evidence at Leeds County Court, said he continued to write about Levi because of a legal dispute, dating back to 2005, in which he claims a company connected to Levi owes the club £190,400, which Levi rejects. Simon Myerson QC expertly handled the defamation claim brought by his client Melvyn Levi against Ken Bates.
A notable Junior Counsel for Defamation work, is Sophie Mitchell. The The Legal 500 2021 edition refers to Sophie as:
“Extremely knowledgeable, approachable and tenacious in approach. She provides fantastic training.
“Sophie Mitchell is ‘extremely knowledgeable’ in the fields of defamation, privacy, and harassment law and one of the few specialist practitioners outside of the London Bar. Direct access qualified, Mitchell’s recent defamation caseload has included claims for libel, brought by a politician against an online newspaper article; slander, where she acted in defence of a government”
A recent case involved her acting for over 50 Claimants (corporate and personal) who represent a large group of directors and employees suffering harassment by the Defendant. The Defendant threatened to “end” the Claimants, posting 120 malicious messages on Google and emailing 80 clients to spread malicious lies about them.
Sophie advised on an urgent basis, drafting documents and successfully appearing at Leeds High Court before HHJ Klein KC at an application for an injunction. Sophie drafted a complex settlement agreement following a meeting with the other side. Following Sophie’s involvement, all the actions complained about have stopped.
Sophie was also recently instructed for the Claimant in an action for defamation against the police, in respect of a press release they made about him, which made references to him harassing police officers. The Claimant argued this was defamatory. Sophie was instructed to urgently draft a Defence pleading for the police, denying that the press release was defamatory and arguing that it was true, fair and privileged. The case settled shortly after the Defence pleading had been served on the Claimant as he decided not to pursue his claim.
The case was defended in unique circumstances. In a separate action, the police had previously brought a claim against the Claimant and other self-proclaimed ‘investigative journalists’ for harassment. The journalists had published countless articles about police officers and their families, targeting them in a campaign which they alleged was aimed at exposing corruption in the police. When the harassment case concluded, the Claimant pursued the police for defamation. Sophie argued, on behalf of the police, that because the Claimant had launched his investigative journalist career on the back of a harassment campaign against the police, it followed that any reputation built on such conduct had been founded illegally. The police have been forced to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds bringing and defending actions against the investigative journalists, in order to protect their officers, this case being one of them.
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