What was your experience with UK Libel and Slander?
June 8, 2009 9:40 AM   Subscribe

So I got involved in UK politics, spoke out eloquently and persuasively on an injustice and as a result the other side has began to personally attack the messenger (that would be me). Therefore I'd like some guidance on 1) UK Libel / Slander, and 2) obtaining a Non Molestation Injunction.

Ok, about one year ago I got involved in UK politics. We've created a very effective web site documenting how atrocious this landlord is, and have mounted a full on meet and greet campaign targeting Local Councillors and our MP (George Galloway) where we follow up emails and phone calls by attending their surgeries, raising issues to their attention. We've also got a fairly effective media campaign targeting local media (print, radio and TV), and have been getting one, sometimes as many as two stories a week for the past six weeks. Even though I've somehow ended up as the cause's public face (I'd seriously rather not), this is all good stuff.

To date I've spoken at two meetings of the full council (Tower Hamlets). Its been an uphill slog, but my last public speech, timed to coordinate with radio and TV coverage of the issue, generated significant momentum to the point of a press release by George Galloway and public statements by Lead Members of the Council denouncing the landlord.

This didn't go over well with the landlord, and their "puppet board" lashed out with some rather slanderous and defamatory comments about myself. These comments were read aloud at a public meeting attended by roughly 30 of my neighbours (slander). I was inclined to ignore this outburst, even though the statements incensed many of the people I represent (and who are rather defensive of me). However about one month later the same comments were posted on a high traffic web site maintained by my landlord which all residents are encouraged to reference for information (libel).

Now to some specifics. The person that made these statements is mid 60's and not a bad guy. Excitable, emotional, uneducated, and I was inclined to overlook the verbal assault - even through I received harassing flyers stuck through my door calling me a "liar" (these four incidents were reported via my landlord's ASB procedure).

But posting on the internet is a different kettle of fish.

I am taking a sabattical from my banking job but am tentatively planning to re-enter the field Q4 2009. In banking I run large, globally distributed teams and big budgets (last post had headcount of 161, with budget in excess of 30M Euros). I can't have this crap on the internet as banks will conduct a background check. If this crap is revealed I may lose a potential position, and I seriously doubt the reasons why would be shared.

I've been interviewing Solicitors and would like some advise before I put someone on retainer - has anyone ever taken UK Libel and Slander proceedings forward?

The published statements clearly identify me by name. They state that I purposely withhold and misstate information. They are a combination of clear, explicit statements, as well as what under UK libel law is called "false innuendo".

They published statements also take several comments from my two speeches partially and out of context, and in doing so make me look imbecilic.

I had the URL leading to, as well as the statements themselves notarised about three weeks ago, so I could prove when they were posted to the internet. The Solicitor who performed the notary service stated in his opinion the comments were defamatory. I declined to progress with him as I feel I need a top legal firm, and have been discussing this matter with Solicitors from the UK's Legal 500 listings, with a goal of retaining one this week.

I can't publish any of the statements here as I don't want to be accused of spreading this information myself (one factor used in calculating damages is dispersion of the defamatory material), but I'd like to get some insight from anyone who has been on either side of a Libel / Slander action in the UK.

FWIW, I don't need money nor do I want money, and in fact will not be asking for money. But I do need the offending material removed and I want it made clear to this guy that while I could progress to a cash settlement, I won't at this time as long as he doesn't repeat the offence. As I said, he's not a bad guy, but what I'm doing rubs him the wrong way and he can't control himself. So no sense ruining him.

In terms of the Non Molestation Injunction (not as bad as it sounds, one of four basic types of injunctions available here in the UK); has anyone presented such an action on their own in a UK court? I'm inclined to give it a go simply to save money, as I've already got to pay for the Libel action.

I'm very comfortable speaking in public, if that's important, but I get the feeling much of this is accomplished by filing forms, having this written material reviewed by a judge and then the injunction is either passed or refused.

The recipient of this injunction is the same individual who has defamed me; in addition to his spoken and written comments above, while attending at least two of our resident association's meetings he's shouted out "you are misleading people", and other highly derogatory statements.

Additionally, he's told several of our ushers that he was there "to disrupt these meetings".

I have six affidavits attesting to these statements and his behaviour at our meetings.

Its clearly in his own and my organisation's interests this guy not attend any further meetings. I've found information about filing for an injunction, have the Form N16A, as well as a Statement of Claim, and understand there are court fees involved.

Has anyone successfully filed for an injunction themselves? If it makes any difference, I'm in Tower Hamlets.

MeMail is fine if you'd like to discuss off the public record.
posted by Mutant to Law & Government (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Politics is a rough game. Slum landlords even rougher. Have you discussed this with Respect and asked to talk with one of their lawyers? Labour probably doesn't give a shit as they definitely don't like George. However as your cause seems to be about discrimination of a minority maybe someone here might give you some interesting advice. You seem a pretty canny chap so you should be able to see if someone is trying to set you up. Good Luck.
posted by adamvasco at 10:13 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't mess about with defamation. Carter Ruck are who you want and they will potentially do contingency fee work if the landlord in question is in funds...
posted by prentiz at 12:54 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: Please be aware that suing for libel or slander in the UK is a very high stakes affair. Yes, you may get a legal firm like the infamous Carter Ruck (known to all Private Eye readers by the obvious mis-spelling), but if you lose you'll be liable for all of your opponents costs & the legal costs for libel and slander suits in the UK are incredibly high.

You might get somewhere with some sternly worded legal letters from a firm like Carter Ruck, but think very, very hard before stepping into the courthouse. Libel suits are a playground for the (very) rich in the UK: the rest of us tread there at peril of losing everything we own. The mean cost of a libel suit is well in excess of a million UKP.

See "A Comparative Study of Costs in Defamation Proceedings Across Europe" from the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy Centre for Socio-Legal Studies here at the University of Oxford (you'd think they'd manage a shorter name!)

BTW, I'd get into bed with Respect too if push came to shove. Don't sweat it.
posted by pharm at 1:51 PM on June 8, 2009

Best answer: A letter of complaint hinting at libel action from your brief to theirs will cause their brief to shit him/herself and instruct the client to get that crap off the website immediately.

Libel cases are indeed very fucking serious in the UK, but it's mostly because if you sue someone for libel the burden of legal proof is entirely upon the defendant to prove his innocence. You sue, you win.

But nobody has enough money to sue (or defend) so they'll settle in a heartbeat. They'll pull the post, and pay for your solicitor's time and apologise, and then you get to be gracious and drop it there. Cos you really don't want to pursue it into court. And they REALLY don't want you to pursue it into court.

Me, if I had a few hundred quid to spare, I wouldn't even bother getting the money back.

(A letter on the headed paper of Messrs. Carter Ruck and Partners, certainly, would cause them not so much shit themselves as evacuate all their internal organs as well... but you pay rather more for that kind of weaponry.)
posted by genghis at 3:07 PM on June 8, 2009

Response by poster: Just a brief update for those following, who were kind enough to answer, or anyone who might run across this thread in the future.

I approached three Solicitors here, all of whom reviewed the material. It was agreed the statements were clearly defamatory and could be considered libelous. But here is where it gets complicated.

Unlike The United States, in the UK one can't just immediately sue. Not that I wanted to, as I'd previously stated, but I'm just adding this as something I've learned while getting this question answered.

We're currently operating under what's called "The Pre Action Protocol on Defamation", where we make it clear the material is defamatory and actionable.

The other side is allowed to make an offer of amends. if such an offer is put forward then litigation is not allowed, at least while the offer is on the table. Not totally certain of time periods for this stage, however we can counter the other side's offer and so it (the back and forth) goes.

In terms of costs (again, I'm not really interested but for completeness of this query, in the spirit of possibly helping someone else in the future) you're only allowed to recover between two third and four fifths of your costs. These would have to be freely offered by the other side ("amends"), and this apparently is intended to help mitigate or totally reduce unwanted litigation. And apparently as a result of litigation, cost recovered by the winner from the loser are also capped at roughly 80% max.

Any excessive awards one reads about in the media re: UK libel suits are solely due to damages. Which, I've made it clear at the outset, both here as well as in my communications to date, I'm not interested in. I only want (need) that defamatory and libelous material removed from the internet.

So that's it. The Solicitor I put on retainer made me sign a copious disclaimer that I've just sumarised above. Except for the fact that if we did go to court there was no such thing in the UK as a guaranteed win in libel, and that the most any firm is allowed to offer clients is an 80% chance of winning. Interesting.

For the injunction, I've found that if the police were involved (and they are; I reported one instance of verbally threatening to "punch your lights out" that was shouted at a meeting I chaired) then this is much, much easier.

The paperwork is textbook and judges reportedly are very sympathetic if police have been involved. Only complication to watch out for is once the court issues the injunction you 1) Have to get it served on your counterparty, and 2) File a copy with your local police department. After that a violation is punishable by up to five years in jail (something I fervently DO NOT WANT TO DO to anyone, let alone this guy).

I'll be taking the injunction forward myself in the next couple of weeks, and arguing the case. By then the other side should have received our initial defamation letter, and I will update on both topics if this thread is open.
posted by Mutant at 4:23 AM on June 20, 2009

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