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Defences to Defamation In Singapore

A person’s reputation is the currency by which he or she lives. Being the subject of malicious or untrue allegations is not pleasant, even more so over the internet where such allegations can spread like wildfire and cause irreparable damage to a person’s reputation. Therefore, it is vital to recognise what defamation is and how to protect yourself against it.

What is defamation?

In Singapore, defamation is actionable under two methods: it is a criminal offence under section 499 of the Penal Code, and a civil action under the Defamation Act for libel (a defamatory statement made by writing) or slander (a defamatory statement made orally).

What is considered defamatory?

To establish defamation, the following must be shown:

A statement bearing a defamatory meaning;

A statement will be considered defamatory if it lowers the person being defamed in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally, causes the person being defamed to be shunned or avoided, or exposes the person being defamed to hatred, contempt or ridicule.

For example, if someone accuses you on Facebook of being a fraud and scammer, the post would have a defamatory meaning because it would cause you to be shunned and avoided. Furthermore, if by inference other members of society would be able to make out the defamatory meaning, this would also constitute defamation.

Publication to a third party;

For a statement to be defamatory, it must have been communicated and read by others. Even if only one person reads it, if it is capable of being defamatory, then defamation will be established. However, the number of people who have read the statement is relevant in assessing the damages to be awarded to the person being defamed. The more the number of people has read the statement, the higher the amount of damages is likely to be.

Reference made to the person being defamed.

The person being defamed must be identified. Furthermore, this identification cannot be done by the self-identification of the person being defamed. The person must, therefore, be identifiable by the words or pictures in the statement. For example, even though the name of the person being defamed is not mentioned, by leading on others through the statement of pictures and inviting them to make conclusions to the point that the identification of the person being defamed is set out, would constitute the person being defamed as identified. Careless and/or reckless words leading to mistaken identities is also not a defence to defamation.

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Defences to a Defamation claim

Three main defences are utilised to resist a defamation claim, and they are as follows:

Justification

To rely on this, the person who made the statement must prove that said statement was true in both substance and fact, i.e. adduce evidence proving that the statement is true.

Fair comment

To rely on this, the person who made the statement must prove that the statement was not a statement of fact but an opinion;

That the statement was based on facts;

That the statement was objectively fair; and

The statement in question relates to a matter of public interest.

Qualified Privilege

Qualified privilege exists only in the unique situation where the person who made the situation has an interest or duty to communicate the information and the third parties receiving the information has a corresponding duty to receive the information. For example, answering police inquiries and/or communication between employers and employees.

Qualified privilege may also be relied on if the person making the statement was trying to protect his or her interest, although it must satisfy the conditions as mentioned above.

Remedies to defamation

If successful, the action in defamation in the civil sphere will ordinarily result in the court awarding monetary damages and/or an injunction against the maker of the statement.

Injunctions

Prohibitory: these injunctions are granted to prevent the maker of the statements from publishing future defamatory statements against you;

Interlocutory: these usually are injunctions taken out while proceedings are ongoing to force the maker of the statement to take down the statement to prevent further reputational damage.

Damages

monetary damages are awarded to the person being defamed if they succeed in their defamation claim in order to restore that person’s reputation and to ease the distress suffered by the person. It can also be to compensate that person for financial losses suffered due to the defamation and resulting in damaged reputation. To determine the amount of damages, the court will take into account the following:

  1. The gravity of the statement;
  2. The effect of the statement; and
  3. The extent of the publication.

 

How we can help

As discussed above, any defamation claim will come down to the examination of the facts, context and circumstances of the case which can be confusing, as it will come down to how each statement is argued, and whether each statement did hold the defamatory meaning. Our lawyers are experienced in these matters, and if you are being threatened with a defamation suit, or are considering initiating one, please get in touch with us. We will have a fruitful consultation on your available options.

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Our specialised lawyers and their team are standing by to assist you. Our first consultation is free.

The information contained within this website contains general information about our lawyers, Law Firm and procedures and is not intended to constitute legal advice.
Any person viewing or receiving information from this Website should not act or refrain from acting, on the basis of any such information without first seeking appropriate legal advice.
Please consult a lawyer for specific review of your case and advise. 

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