Supreme Court holds that serious harm must be proved as a matter of fact in defamation claims


Re: Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd & Anor [2019] UKSC 27

This appeal considered the proper interpretation of the ‘serious harm’ test in the Defamation Act 2013, s 1(1). This was in reference to the circumstances in which serious harm can be inferred in the absence of evidence of harm; the applicability of the common law repetition rule and the rule in Associated Newspapers Ltd v Dingle [1964] AC 371 excluding the admissibility of publications to similar effect.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal.

The Court held that s 1 of the 2013 Act not only raised the threshold of seriousness from that in the previous cases of Jameel and Thornton, but required its application to be determined by reference to the actual facts about its impact, not merely the meaning of the words. This is because the 2013 Act undoubtedly amended the common law to some degree, making the extent of damage part of the test for a defamatory statement.

The Supreme Court dismissed the defendant’s appeal on the facts, holding that the serious harm test was met in this case.

Guy Vassall-Adams QC and Edward Craven were involved in this case.