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Jo C.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 71053
Experience:  Over 5 years in practice
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My partner Stephen is in the process of dispute with his brother

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My partner Stephen is in the process of dispute with his brother regarding their partnership in a family farm. This brother has been for the past 6 months been telling people that the breakdown in the partnership is all down to me and that I am the driving force behind this legal dispute and breakdown of the business partnership. This has lead to creditors and other farmers whom my partner Stephen deals with questioning me and my intent in the relationship. Indeed a number of these associates of Stephen have been attempting to pursuade him to break off our engagemnet and get rid of me altogether from the relationship as according to his brother I am intent on "getting my hands" on the farm and its assets. Is there anything I can do to stop the brother from attempting to blacken my name in the community we live in?
Thank you for your question. My name is ***** ***** I will try to help with this.
These comments may be defamatory. Defamation takes two forms. One is slander which covers the spoken word. The other is libel which covers the written.
You have to prove that the words are defamatory, that they would be understood to refer to you and that they have been published to a 3rd party.
Comments made directly to a person about themselves are not published and so cannot be defamatory however bad or untrue they are. If such contact were to continue it might amount to harassment.
Under the new law there is a set definition of defamation and that is the statement must cause or be likely to cause 'serious harm' to the reputation of the claimant – S1 Defamation Act.
An opinion, however, is not generally defamatory. People are entitled to an opinion under the human rights act and, indeed, under the common law generally. However, a person cannot hide behind the argument that a defamatory comment is just an opinion. For instance, if the person were to say “in my opinion, X is a liar with 15 convictions for theft" then that would be defamatory unless it were true. The opinion must be fair with some basis for it. It must be shown that it was a reasonable comments in all the circumstances.
Similarly, foul abuse is not defamatory although there might be other actions open to an aggrieved person.
Truth is a defence to defamation. The defendant would have to prove that it was the truth and that is reasonably hard to do so this defence is not often relied upon.
Honest opinion is also now a defence under S3 Defamation Act replacing the old 'fair comment' defence. It really doesn't change much. A defendant relying on this section has to prove that an honest person could have held the opinion on the basis of any fact which existed or anything else asserted.
The real difficulty with defamation actions though is that they are very expensive. Unfortunately they are the domain of the very rich. That is not to say that you couldn't send a letter from a local solicitor for reasonable cost warning this person of the laws of libel and slander.
Also, you may want to consider other alternatives. This may amount to harassment which you can report to the police or sue at the civil courts much more economically. It might also be a malicious communication and you can report that to the police.
Hope this helps. Please let me know if you need any more information.
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