Thursday, 21 June 2018

What are the Elements of Defamation?

Defamation refers to the action of harming the reputation of another person. It entails publishing information you know to be untruthful about another person in an effort to ridicule them or cause them embarrassment.

Generally, defamation can either be libel or slander. Libel refers to any written statement that harms the reputation of another. Slander on the other hand refers to any spoken or oral statement that harms another’s reputation.

Under Singapore law, you can saw someone for defamation under the Penal Code or the Defamation Act. If you choose to sue under the penal code, it means you are pressing criminal charges against the person. Therefore, your end goal is that the person should be punished for the defamatory remarks against you.

If on the other hand you sue somebody under the Defamation Act, you are initiating a civil suit against them. The end goal of such a suit is that the other party should compensate you for any losses you have suffered owing to their remarks.

What are the Elements of Defamation?

There are essentially three elements for the offence of defamation. These are as follows:

• The statement must be defamatory. It must harm a person’s reputation
• The identity of the victim must be known
• The statement must be published

The first element demands that the statement in question be defamatory. At law, you must prove that the statement harmed your reputation in some way. In civil cases, you must prove that you have suffered some loss owing to the said statement. This is especially true for businesses suing under the Defamation Act.

In criminal cases, it is important to show that the maker of the statement actually intended to make the statement. This satisfies the element of a guilty mind that must be present for criminal liability to be found. This is however not the case in civil cases. As long as the statement has been made and certified defamatory, it doesn’t matter whether the maker intended to make it or that they made it negligently; they will still compensate the plaintiff for any losses suffered.

Secondly, the identity of the victim must be known. This means that the statement must be aimed towards a given person or business entity. If it is a vague statement, then a defamation claim will not succeed. Identification can be in the form of words, such as when someone says that your business is selling defective goods. Alternatively, if someone prints a picture of you or your business and then continues to make defamatory remarks about you, that also classifies as proper identification.

Finally, the defamatory statement must be published. This simply means that a third party must have heard or read the defamatory statement. If this element is not satisfied, then a defamation suit will most likely fail. 

What are the defences to defamation?

There are two defences to defamation. These are as follows:

1. Justification
When someone argues the defence of justification in a defamation case, they are simply saying that their statements are actually true. However, they will need to provide proof of the truthfulness of those statements. If the statements are found to be true, then the accused cannot be found guilty of defamation. Defamation only holds where the offensive statements are untrue.

2. Fair Comment
Another defence to a suit in defamation is that of fair comment. Here the defendant is simply arguing that the statement they made was their honest opinion on the person or business in question. They must not have had ulterior motives when making that statement or else the defence will not hold.

How to Respond to Defamatory Statements made against your Business

Defamatory remarks against a person usually don’t cause them much loss unless their source of livelihood depends on their reputation. The same is however not true for businesses. Many businesses usually thrive on a good reputation. If say someone writes a negative review about your restaurant, it can cause a decline in the number of people visiting the restaurant. This in turn could lead to direct losses in business.

So, how do you respond to people who defame your business, especially those who do it in online forums?

1. Don’t Remove the Comments Too Fast
As soon as you see defamatory statements on websites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, your first instinct will probably be to remove them. Why expose your business to more negative attention than is necessary, right? But this may not be the smartest move. Removing negative reviews as soon as they are made gives the impression that you have something to hide.

2. Respond Rationally
Often, people who write negative reviews rant in an irrational manner. The best way to respond to them is to be rational and gracious. Don’t stoop to their level and start posting offensive or extremely defensive remarks. Accept constructive criticism where it is due and correct the wrongs you may have committed against the reviewer. If you can, add some humor to your response to lighten the mood and bring the matter to an end.

3. Seek Legal Remedies
You may also choose to seek legal remedies as a last resort. Legal battles are usually long and demanding, and could even cause you more damage to your business than simply letting go. So unless the defamatory statements are costing your business a lot, refrain from suing the offender.
If you choose to sue the other party, it is important that you hire the best lawyer.

Here are a few tips on how to find the best lawyer for a defamation suit.

1. Choose an Expert
If you have to choose between a lawyer who specializes in defamation and a general lawyer, by all means pick the expert. This is because they have dealt with many other defamation suits and they know exactly what is needed to win such cases. Better yet, nothing will come as a surprise to them since they are used to defamation battles.

2. Pick One who Makes your Case a Priority
Although large law firms are thought to be the best, they may not pay each case the attention it needs. It is better to go to a smaller firm that will make your case a priority and give it attention.


Although defamation suits are not all that common in Singapore, they still happen regularly. If you fall prey to defamatory remarks, try to solve the matter out of court. Only choose to sue the offender when worst comes to worst. And before you sue, first make sure that the statements are not true or else your case will be rather weak.