Truth be told: the new defence of truth under section 2, Defamation Act 2013

By Amber Melville-Brown

‘The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.’ They are the wise words of Prof Dumbledore of Hogwarts fame. Whether or not it is beautiful and terrible, a new statutory defence of ‘truth’ has replaced the old defence of justification.

Under the old rules, while an allegation might have been defamatory in that it tended to lower the claimant in the estimation of right-minded members of society, the defendant would escape liability if he were able to show that the allegations were true or substantially true. The new statutory defence of truth is an attempt by the legislature to reflect and consolidate the ever-increasing body of case law that has developed over the years.

We have already set out that, under the new act, for a claim to be defamatory it must have caused or be likely to have caused the claimant serious harm to his reputation. Now, such a statement will be defensible under the new section 2 if the defendant can prove that ‘the imputation conveyed by the statement complained of is substantially true’…

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