Inforrm reported on a large number of defamation cases from around the world in 2020. Following my widely read posts on 2017, 2018 and 2019 defamation cases, this is my personal selection of the most legally and factually interesting cases from England, Australia, Canada, Scotland and Ireland, from the past year.
Please add, by way of comments, cases from other jurisdictions which you think should be added.
- Depp v News Group Newspapers  EWHC 2911 (QB)
The most high profile libel trial of the year. This was the claim by actor Johnny Depp against the publisher of the Sun newspaper. The action came following the publication of an article characterising him as “wife beater Depp”. After a 16 day trial Nicol J reserved judgment for 3 months. His 128 page judgment concluded that:
“The Claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel. Although he has proved the necessary elements of his cause of action in libel, the Defendants have shown that what they published in the meaning which I have held the words to bear was substantially true.” 
There were regular Inforrm case reports and an Inforrm case comment. Coverage from news outlets was also predictably broad with the Independent, News.au and the Sun itself. Depp is reported appealing the finding.
- Serafin v Malkiewicz & Others  1 WLR 2455
An action for libel and misuse of private information in respect to an article published in October 2015. The UK Supreme Court here provided guidance on s.4 of the Defamation Act 2020, the public interest defence. The case is also significant due to the rare instance of the UK Supreme Court ordering a full retrial in the case, concluding that “the justice system has failed both sides” with “deep regret” and “a degree of embarrassment in relation to respected colleagues” in the Court of Appeal. There was an Inforrm case comment and a comment from 5RB Chambers.
- Gubarev v Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd  EWHC 2912 (QB)
A defamation trial concerning the publication of an article on Buzzfeed alleging that the claimants took actions to undermine the democratic party leadership throughout March-September 2016. It was not established that the defendant was responsible in law for the publication of the publication complained of. There was an Inforrm case comment.
- Vardy v Rooney  EWHC 3156 (QB)
A trial of a preliminary issue on meaning following Ms Rooney’s statement on her Instagram account that she had identified who was leaking details of her personal life to the Sun. There was an Inforrm case comment. As expected the case drew a media frenzy with commentary from the Metro, CNN, Telegraph, Daily Mail and INews.
- Campbell v Dugdale  CSIH 27
A case in First Division, Inner House of the Court of Session. The case concerns allegations that a tweet made by the claimant was homophobic. The then Leader of the Scottish Labour Party described the tweets as “homophobic” and described the author as “someone who sprouts hatred and homophobia towards others”. It was affirmed that the defence of fair comment was applicable here and the appeal was dismissed. Brodies LLP has a case comment.
These two cases analysed anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario providing a detailed review of the language of the legislation and how it ought to, theoretically, be applied. Plantick involved the application of these principles with the 5:4 split suggesting that there remains a high degree of judicial discretion at play in the application of Ontario anti-SLAPP legislation. There was an Inforrm case comment.
- Herron v HarperCollins Publishers Australia Pty Ltd (No 3) FCA 1687.
The case concerned allegations made in a book written by journalist Steve Cannane, published in 2016, which concerned the Church of Scientology in Australia. The Claimants sued for defamation over the book’s contents, despite the issues raised having been found against them by an enquiry 30 years previously. The case covered determinations of many factual matters and ultimately the claimants were unsuccessful. There was a 5RB news item.
- Rush v Nationwide News  FCAFC 115
The newspapers’ unsuccessful appeal against the original finding in the Geoffery Rush defamation case from last years list, this concerned the assessment of the award of damages made by the Court. The award of $2,872,753.10 to Mr Rush was upheld. The case was covered by the BBC.
- Fairfax Media Publications; Nationwide News Pty Ltd; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller  NSWCA 102.
A finding that establishes that media companies can be considered publishers of comments made by readers on their social media accounts. This means media companies can be held responsible for responses to media they post. The Court of Appeal majority in the case concluded: “it is not uncommon for persons to be held liable for the publication of defamatory imputations conveyed by matter composed by another person”. There was an Inforrm comment on the case.
- Higgins v Irish Aviation Authority  IECA 157.
A €387,000 defamation award by a jury to an Aer Lingus pilot against the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has been cut to €76,500 by the Court of Appeal. Mr Justice Donald Binchy, on behalf of the three-judge COA, found the appropriate sum for general and aggravated damages was €76,500. There were pieces in The Irish Examiner and the Sunday Times. There was a discussion on the Ronan Daly Jermyn website.
Suneet Sharma is a junior legal professional with a particular interest and experience in media, information and privacy law. He is the editor of The Privacy Perspective blog.