Advice on making or defending charity defamation claims
Defamatory comments can be very damaging to a charity, and can have serious financial ramifications and a detrimental effect on its operations.
If a charity has had a false allegation made about them, for example by a former employee, a member of the public or another organisation, it is important that they act quickly to prevent the allegations from either being published in the first place, or if it is published, from having any long-lasting and wide reaching implications by obtaining specialist legal advice from our expert team of solicitors.
Likewise, if a charity has, for one reason or another, been accused of making a defamatory comment they should seek advice as soon as possible.
If you are a trustee of a charity and become aware that a defamatory comment about your charity is going to be made but has not yet been published, it is advisable to seek specialist legal advice to prevent the comment ever being published and causing any damage to your charity.
If the comments are published online, it may be possible to get the comments removed early, thus limiting the damage to your charity. If the comments have been made anonymously (e.g. on social media) then it still may be possible to get the comments retracted.
If a defamatory comment cannot be removed and/or it has already had a negative impact on your charity, you can take legal action through the Courts to:
- Obtain an apology;
- A published retraction/correction;
- An injunction against the defendant so that they do not repeat the defamatory comment; and/or
- Financial compensation for the damage caused by the comments, such as lost revenue/wages, damage to reputation, and to cover your charity’s legal expenses.
If your charity has been accused of making a defamatory comment about a third party (an individual or organisation), it is vital to speak with a solicitor who can assess your circumstances and supply you with the necessary legal advice.
Are defamation claims involving a charity deemed as being ‘charity proceedings’?
Particular rules apply in relation to internal disputes within a charity, which are termed ‘charity proceedings’. Charity proceedings might arise for a number of reasons, and could concern matters such as conflicts regarding the use of a charity’s resources, applications to remove trustees or claims for breach of duty on the part of trustees.
Charity proceedings are not, however, concerned with disputes between a charity and a third party over claims of defamation.
The Charity Commission published guidance in August 2016, which sets out clearly their understanding of the legal framework within which charities operate. This guidance provides clear confirmation that, where a charity finds themselves embroiled in a civil dispute (for example, a defamation claim against a third party), the Charity Commission’s permission is not required for the charity to defend or pursue those proceedings. However, the trustees of the charity must undertake a full assessment about the merits of a civil claim before bringing or defending legal action.
Making or defending a defamation claim as a charity – important things to consider
Defamation claims brought by trustees of a charity must demonstrate that a false statement that has been made against them, it has been seen by other people and has caused their charity serious harm.
The threshold for assessing serious harm will be reliant upon the circumstances of the defamatory comments, e.g. has the comment been seen or read by many people or are the comments likely to be taken seriously.
In the circumstances where a charity has been accused of making a defamatory comment (which the charity believes to be true), if they are able to prove that the comments are truthful, the claim brought by the claimant will be dismissed.
Defamation claims involving a charity – how our solicitors can help
If a defamatory comment has been made against your charity, or you are aware that an allegation will soon be made about your charity, our team can provide you with expert advice. Our advice will focus on how you can protect your charity’s reputation and, if necessary, what legal remedies are available so you can obtain compensation for any financial and/or reputational harm that your charity has suffered.
Our team can also provide advice in circumstances where a charity has been accused of making an untrue statement about a third party, and can advise of any legal action taken against your charity and support you resolving the dispute.
We work with charities across the country to resolve various types of disputes at the earliest possible stage through negotiation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation. Court action is a last resort but, if a case gets there, our team puts forward the best possible case, never losing sight of your charity’s objectives.