Minding Your Legal Business IV: Protecting your reputation

It is not unusual to have clients walk into attorneys’ offices to ask for a letter to another person to ask that person to desist from “slandering” their names. Our social context produces robust quarrels among neighbours. The term “slandered” is used locally to cover anything defamatory.

TYPES OF DEFAMATION

  1. Slander

Slander is defamation in a non-permanent form, usually, spoken words.  Unless you prove actual loss, you can only succeed on an action in slander if the words complained of:

  1. would tend to lower the perception that right-thinking members of the society form of you;
  2. were communicated to at least one-third party;
  3. allege that you have committed a crime punishable by imprisonment or corporal punishment. An allegation that you are suspected to have committed a crime is not enough;
  4. suggest that you have diseases that are contagious and which carry stigma so that you would be shunned by members of the community, eg an STD;
  5. suggest that you are unchaste or that you have committed/are committing adultery;
  6. affect your professional/business reputation; or
  7. are calculated to cause monetary loss and they are published in writing other than permanent form.

2. Libel

Libel is defamation in permanent form, for example, a painting, a picture, effigy, caricature, advertisement, talking film, or any disparaging object, or the reading out of a defamatory document to a third party.

You do not need to prove damage or that the words allege the specific matters as listed for slander but, like slander, you do need to prove communication to at least one-third party and that the words would tend to lower the perception that right-thinking members of the society form of you.

Will the Law Protect Your Reputation? Not if:

  • You have died. Reputation belongs to the living.
  • You are not entitled to a good name, even if the allegations are true or substantially true.

The wrongdoer proves that his words constitute:

  1. Fair comment: comment has to be based upon true facts, but expressed as an opinion, not an assertion of fact. It must be a comment in the public interest, and not motivated by ill intentions;
  2. Political comment;
  3. Absolute privilege: the law deems proceedings in certain fora to be protected from the law of defamation, for example, what is said in Parliament and in Court proceedings;
  4. Qualified privilege: the law will protect allegations made in certain circumstances, provided that they were not motivated by ill intentions, or what the law calls “malice”. Examples: statements given to proper authorities to obtain redress for grievances; statements made in self-defence; statements made in the performance of a legal/moral/social duty, eg in reporting the commission of a crime to the police; and statements on proceedings in Parliament or Court, provided that the reports are fair and accurate.

How will the law protect your reputation:

  1. The tender of a proper apology by the wrongdoer;
  2. Compensation for any losses; and or
  3. Granting an order to stop the repetition/further publication of the offensive words.

Grenada Bar Association

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