The law of defamation protects an individual’s reputation. As a foundation principle, the law assumes that all people are of good character until it is proved otherwise. A person who has defamed another may be held liable for damages to compensate for injury to reputation and any financial loss caused by the defamatory matter.

The law of defamation in Western Australia is largely governed by the common law and supplemented by the Defamation Act 2005 (WA). This Act came into effect on 1 January 2006 and abolished the general law distinction between libel and slander. Accordingly, the publication of defamatory matter of any kind is actionable without proof of special damage. A person may be held to have defamed another if they make a statement which:

  • Tends to lower the subject person’s reputation in the eyes of the ordinary members of the community;
  • Leads people to ridicule, avoid or despise the subject person; or
  • Injures the subject person’s reputation in business, trade or profession.

It is important to note that large corporations are no longer able to sue for defamation in Western Australia. Only not-for-profit companies or companies with less than ten employees can be defamed, where their trading or business reputation has been lowered.

There are a number of defences to the publication of defamatory matter. A person will not be held liable for making a defamatory statement if:

  • It is proven that the statement was true;
  • The statement was an honest opinion on a matter of public rather than private interest;
  • The statement is privileged;
  • The circumstances of publication were such that the aggrieved person was unlikely to sustain any harm.

Defamation cases are heard in the Supreme Court of Western Australia however resolutions are achievable without litigation by means of an offer to make amends to an aggrieved person and/or an apology. This path may avoid litigation where costs and outcome are unknown.

If you require legal advice in relation to defamation, please do not hesitate to contact us to arrange a meeting so that we may consider your specific circumstances.

The above information is provided as general information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. The accuracy of this information may have changed from the date when it was published.