In a long-awaited decision that clarifies libel law in England and Wales, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a claimant can sue over likely damage to their reputation rather than having to show evidence that actual harm has been caused.

Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice McFarlane, Lord Justice Davis and Lady Justice Sharp said that libel claimants did not need to show evidence of damage to their reputations, because it could be inferred from the seriousness of the statement made, the extent of publication and the influence and repute of the paper, broadcaster or online publisher.

The appeal was against a High Court decision involving Bruno Lachaux, a French citizen working in Dubai, who is suing following defamatory articles in the Independent, the Evening Standard and the Huffington Post.

In particular the publishers were challenging the High Court’s decision that evidence of serious harm did not need to be shown. Yesterday the appeal was dismissed, bringing to an end the proliferation of pre-trial hearings on the serious harm issue.

Nigel Tait, Managing Partner of Carter-Ruck, told The Times: “This is the most important libel judgment for many years. It gives a robust and common sense interpretation of section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013 which will be very helpful to practitioners and clients who at last know where they stand. The decision stamps down hard on the cottage industry that has grown up around unnecessary trials about whether an otherwise defamatory statement causes a claimant serious harm.”

He explained that the Court of Appeal’s decision “made clear that this issue can be inferred from the seriousness of an allegation and where it is published, and can therefore usually be determined without the need for a separate hearing. This reduces costs, complexity and delay, which is surely good for everyone”.

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