The Defamation Act 2013 (“the Act”) states that for a statement to be considered defamatory, it must have caused, or be likely to cause, serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.
In the case of a practice, serious harm is considered if the statement has caused, or is likely to cause, the practice serious financial loss. A statement will only be defamatory if none of the various defences available under the Act are applicable. The most common defence relied upon are:
- Honest opinion
- Publication on a matter of public interest
- Absolute privilege
- Innocent dissemination
The Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013 specify that people can ask operators of websites to remove adverse comments that they consider defamatory. The regulations provide legally binding defences for website operators, providing they follow the correct process for responding to requests.
The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/2013) provide that, once a website operator is put on notice that it is hosting defamatory material, it should promptly take steps to remove the material or disable access to it. Failure to do this means that the operator assumes liability for its publication and is exposed to a claim for damages. In practice, a website operator will often be quick to remove potentially defamatory material from a site once informed of it, because this serves as a robust defence in the event of legal action.
The regulations and associated processes have been specifically designed and written for the public to be able to remove comments without needing to resort to solicitors or lawyers. It is possible for the whole process to be concluded within nine days.