Defences to libel

It is often the media that are accused of libel by the very nature of their work. The first thing to do is not to panic but to look carefully at what caused the offence and decide how you are going to deal with it. It is often a mistake to ignore a letter of complaint hoping it will go away. Rules of court take account of pre-action behaviour by a potential defendant and one of the things a court will look at is how responsibly or reasonably you reacted to a letter of complaint by the prospective claimant.

At an early stage you need to assess the merits of the complaint. Good early advice will often avoid much trouble later on. There are many considerations to take into account on matters of principle, policy, and tactics but so far as the law is concerned there are 3 basis defences to libel:

  • the offending words were true (justification);
  • the offending words were fair comment on a matter of public interest;
  • the offending words fall under one of the exemptions to libel (ie privileged).

Even if you think you have a good defence it still needs careful thought to decide how best to deal with the situation so as not to inflame the situation. Sometimes a simple and prompt explanation will help resolve matters which would otherwise lead to an unnecessary escalation into litigation. There are ofcourse other situations which have to be fought and defended because of the nature of the allegations and the principles involved.

To learn more about how we can help you, visit our advising on the first letter of complaint page.


There are 3 stages to the work we can do for you, please see below:



Stage 1

Advising on the first letter of complaint

Stage 2

Negotiating and attempting to settle prior to issue of court proceedings

Stage 3

Defending AFTER court proceedings issued