Designed for people with no legal background, the course is aimed at anyone who publishes material that may be critical of the activities of individuals or companies by highlighting, for example, corruption, environmental harm or human rights violations. The course is likely to be of particular interest to NGOs, journalists and media organisations seeking to develop their knowledge of defamation law and looking to reduce their risk of being sued for defamation.
Written by Matrix barristers Guy Vassall-Adams QC and Aidan Wills, the course is up-to-date and includes the latest legal developments. The course consists of e-learning modules that are delivered in the form of YouTube-based narrated PowerPoint presentations. A script of the narration is also available.
The five modules included in the course are:
- An introduction to defamation. This module introduces the concept of defamation and goes onto explain the types of defamation, the components of a defamation claim (including the serious harm test brought in by the Defamation Act 2013), who has standing to bring a claim, and when people/organisations may bring a claim. Particular attention is paid to the considerations that apply to online publications.
- Defamatory meaning. This module addresses how the meaning of a statement alleged to be defamatory is determined by the courts and the role played by the single meaning rule. Also explained are the different levels of meaning – the so-called Chase level meanings – used to categorise the statements that allege wrongdoing or misconduct (guilt, reasonable grounds to suspect and reasonable grounds to investigate). The third module on defences explains the relevance that different levels of meaning may have for defending a claim.
- Defences to a claim for defamation. This module provides an overview of the main defences to a defamation claim: truth, honest opinion, public interest, absolute and qualified privilege. Given their importance in the work of campaigning and investigative NGOs, detailed consideration is given to the public interest and truth defences. There is also a discussion of the website operators’ defence, which has become increasingly important for organisations that host online content posted by others.
- Avoiding defamation claims. This module explains the three main stages in the preparation of an article for publication: (1) research, (2) writing and (3) final steps such as seeking a comment from the subject of the article before publication. Guidance is provided on what can be done at each of these stages to reduce the risk that a publisher will be sued for defamation and to lay the groundwork for a successful defence in the event that a claim is brought.
- Responding to complaints or claims. The final module focuses on the importance of acting promptly and seeking legal advice in the event that a complaint is made or legal proceedings are issued.
The course also includes a quiz designed to test participants’ learning and a checklist to assist with reviewing publications.