Top 10 Defamation Cases 2020

In 2020 there were many significant defamation cases from across the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. These cases provided prominent forums for defamation cases and facilitated for significant development, analysis and application of the law.

  1. Depp v News Group Newspapers [2020] EWHC 2911 (QB) 

The highly publicised libel trial of Johnny Depp against the publisher of the Sun newspaper. The action came following the publication of an article characterising Depp as “wife beater Depp”.  It was concluded: 

“The Claimant has not succeeded in his action for libel. Although he has proved the necessary elements of his cause of action in libel, the Defendants have shown that what they published in the meaning which I have held the words to bear was substantially true.”    

There was an Inforrm case comment. Coverage from news outlets was also predictably broad with the IndependentNews.au and the Sun itselfDepp is reported appealing the finding.    

  1. Serafin v Malkiewicz & Others  [2020] 1 WLR 2455  

An action for libel and misuse of private information in respect to an article published in October 2015. The Supreme Court here provided guidance on s.4 of the Defamation Act 2020, the public interest defence. The case is also significant due to the rare instance of the UK Supreme Court ordering a full retrial in the case, concluding that “the justice system has failed both sides” with “deep regret” and “a degree of embarrassment in relation to respected colleagues” in the Court of Appeal. There was an Inforrm case comment and a comment from 5RB Chambers.  

  1. Gubarev v Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd [2020] EWHC 2912 (QB) 

A defamation trial concerning the publication of an article on Buzzfeed alleging that the claimants took actions to undermine the democratic party leadership throughout March-September 2016. It was not established that the defendant was responsible in law for the publication of the publication complained of.  There was an Inforrm case comment

4. Vardy v Rooney [2020] EWHC 3156 (QB) 

A preliminary trial as to meaning following Ms Rooney’s statement on her Instagram account that she had identified who was leaking details of her personal life to the Sun. There was an Inforrm case comment. As expected the case drew a media frenzy with commentary from the MetroCNNTelegraphDaily Mail and INews.   

  1. Campbell v Dugdale [2020] CSIH 27  

A case in First Division, Inner House of the Court of Session. The case concerns allegations that a tweet made by the claimant was homophobic. The then Leader of the Scottish Labour Party described the tweets as “homophobic” and described the author as “someone who sprouts hatred and homophobia towards others”. It was affirmed that the defence of fair comment was applicable here and the appeal was dismissed. Brodies LLP has a case comment.  

  1. 1704604 Ontario Ltd. v. Pointes Protection Association; Bent v. Platnick   

These two cases analysed anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario providing a detailed review of the language of the legislation and how it ought to, theoretically, be applied. Plantick involved the application of these principles with the 5:4 split suggesting that there remains a high degree of judicial discretion at play in the application of Ontario anti-SLAPP legislation. There was an Inforrm case comment.  

7. Herron v HarperCollins Publishers Australia Pty Ltd (No 3)[2020] FCA 1687 

The case concerned allegations made in a book written by journalist Steve Cannane, published in 2016, which concerned the Church of Scientology in Australia. The Claimants sued for defamation over the book’s contents, despite the issues raised having been found against them by an enquiry 30 years previously. The case covered determinations of many factual matters and ultimately the claimants were unsuccessful. There was a  5RB news item

  1. Rush v Nationwide News [2020] FCAFC 115  

The Newspapers failed attempt to appeal against the original finding in the Geoffery Rush defamation case from last years list, this concerned the assessment of the award of damages made by the Court. The award of $2,872,753.10 to Mr Rush was upheld. The case was covered by the BBC.  

  1. Fairfax Media Publications; Nationwide News Pty Ltd; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller [2020] NSWCA 102.  

A finding that establishes that media companies can be considered publishers of comments made by readers on their social media accounts. This means media companies can be held responsible for responses to media they post. The Court of Appeal majority in the case concluded: “it is not uncommon for persons to be held liable for the publication of defamatory imputations conveyed by matter composed by another person”.  

There was an Inforrm comment on the case. 

  1. Higgins v Irish Aviation Authority [2020] IECA 157.   

A €387,000 defamation award by a jury to an Aer Lingus pilot against the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has been cut to €76,500 by the Court of Appeal. Mr Justice Donald Binchy, on behalf of the three-judge COA, found the appropriate sum for general and aggravated damages was €76,500.  There were pieces in The Irish Examiner and the Sunday Times. There was a discussion on the Ronan Daly Jermyn website

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