Protecting privacy rights – Malicious falsehood

In this series, we consider actions which function to protect the privacy of individuals under English Law. 

These claims stem from the malicious publication of a false statement which identifies the claimant and has caused them financial loss. These four elements must be proven by the claimant. What malicious falsehood seeks to protect is the claimant’s economic rights, primarily the goodwill in their business. Therefore, in many cases claimants will seek to show special pecuniary loss in the form of damages to business evidenced by loss of profits.

In some cases, however, no loss needs to be proven by the claimant. These instances are outlined in s3(1)(a) and (b) Defamation Act 1952 and typically involve instances, where the statement complained of, is in writing and was calculated to cause pecuniary damage to the plaintiff.

Malicious falsehood is firstly concerned with the falsity of a statement, rather than matters of comment or opinion the defamation is typically debated around.

“Some malicious falsehood claims also involve Art 8 (privacy) rights, although less frequently than in defamation claims” – Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd [2011] EWHC 159 (QB) at p.33

The requirement for financial loss to be evidenced in malicious falsehood cases means that it less often covers Article 8 issues, as these are more likely to be personal attacks meriting Article 8 protection. As an economic tort malicious falsehood sits less easily with Article 8 issues than the personal tort of defamation (see Ajinomoto Sweetners Europe SAS v Asda Stores Limited [2010] EWCA Civ 609).

In a malicious falsehood claim damages are compensatory in nature. They seek to provide compensation for the pecuniary loss caused by the false statement.

As practical matter defamation and malicious falsehood claims are typically brought together. Covering Article 8 rights statements can include false allegations which impinge upon the private life of the claimant. These include mixed statements which have personal imputations which damage the claimant’s business, such as statements about infidelity or convictions.

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