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When does mud-slinging become something more serious?

With feelings running high following the UK’s Brexit vote there has been non-stop mud-slinging in the press between various high-profile political figures.  Boris Johnston’s bid to become Prime Minister fell at the first hurdle when his supposed backer Michael Gove decided he would instead run himself, citing Boris’ lack of ability to provide leadership as his main justification.  In the meantime Labour’s political in-fighting has intensified with public insults being made about Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to lead the party by high-profile members of the party, both past and present.  In a world now dominated by social media use the divisions caused by the Brexit campaign and vote now seem clearer and the insults more personal than ever.  So, when does the mud-slinging become something more serious allowing legal action to be taken by the party at the receiving end?

In Scots law defamation requires that a statement made about a person or a business (a) is false, and (b) lowers the defamed individual or business in the estimation of right thinking members of society. Communicating a statement in any way which meets these two requirements leaves the person making it open to being sued for defamation.  The amount the defamed party can sue for depends on a number of factors, including how widely the statement has been circulated and what losses flow from this.

Defamation actions can be a particularly useful tool for individuals or business who find themselves targeted by aggrieved customers who then go on to make false statements about them on social media or elsewhere.  In addition, if threats to circulate comments wider are made preventative action can be taken by requesting the court to grant interim interdict, effectively seeking to stop the person making the threat from carrying it out.

This all begs the question – could Boris or Jeremy sue for defamation if they were resident in Scotland?  Unfortunately for them the answer is no.  The defence of fair comment is likely to apply to these statements which protects the principle of freedom of speech in expressing opinions on public figures, political and legal decision makers.

Thankfully for the rest of us, in a world where reputations and businesses can be damaged or even destroyed as quickly as it takes to post a comment on social media or send an email, actions for defamation remain a viable option and early legal advice should be sought on what can be done to prevent or minimise the damage.

If you have any questions regarding defamation please contact Fiona Grant on 01383 721621.

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