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September 17, 2015

New decision on serious harm

Category: Defamation

Tags: Defamation, Defamation Act, serious harm

First judicial consideration of s. 1(2) Defamation Act 2013


Warby J has handed down a decision on s. 1(2) of the Defamation Act 2013 in Brett Wilson LLP v Persons Unknown [2015] EWHC 2628 (QB). This is the first time a court has considered the requirement in that section for a body which trades for profit to show serious harm which has caused or is likely to cause serious financial loss.

The claim for damages and an injunction in libel was brought by the law firm, which has acted for the claimants in earlier proceedings against the “Solicitors From Hell” website, against the persons unknown responsible for references to the firm on a new iteration of the site. Brett Wilson relied on a number of consequences of the publication which the judge held meant that the requirements of s. 1 were met. These included the specific loss attributable to the withdrawal of instructions from a prospective client who had read the words complained of, but also more general factors such as the prominence of the words complained of in Google search, and the inference that individuals would have read them and not notified the firm.

On the court being satisfied that the serious harm test had been met, Brett Wilson were awarded general damages of £10,000 and an injunction. The decision, reported in a 5RB case report here, gives a helpful illustration of the kind of damage that a corporate claimant may be required to show for the purposes of libel proceedings.