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Corporate defamation in English law: corporate reputation, freedom of speech and the Defamation Act 2013

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

aim of this thesis is to assess whether English defamation law strikes an appropriate balance between the conflicting interests in reputation and freedom of speech in cases involving corporate, as opposed to individual, claimants. The interests in corporate reputation and the freedom to criticize companies and their activities are explored by reviewing both the academic literature and the relevant case law, on the basis of which it is argued that the law should afford less weight to the reputational interests of corporate claimants than is given to the individual interest in reputation; and that defendants’ speech typically warrants enhanced protection from companies’ defamation claims in light of the public interest value of critical statements about corporate activities.
In s 1(2) of the Defamation Act 2013, Parliament responded to the widespread concerns that had been raised about corporate defamation law by introducing a threshold requirement of ‘serious financial loss’ which claims brought by for-profit companies must meet in order to succeed. This thesis contains the most detailed critical assessment of that reform to date, which scrutinizes the cases in which the s 1(2) test has been interpreted and applied since it came into force. That analysis concludes that the provision will not resolve the problems with the pre-existing law, in part because the courts have interpreted it too favourably to claimants, and in part because Parliament’s decision to focus on financial loss fails to address other fundamental issues with corporate defamation litigation.
In light of that assessment of the 2013 reforms, the thesis considers a range of alternative reforms that might be made, either to the substantive law, to the remedies awarded to successful claimants, or to the procedures used to resolve claims. A number of potentially beneficial reforms are identified, but it is argued that none of them would offer a complete response to the problems caused by corporate defamation claims. Instead, the thesis proposes that the right to sue in defamation should be removed entirely from corporate claimants.
In contrast to most other literature in which a similar approach is proposed, this thesis recommends removing the right to sue from all non-human claimants, rather than targeting only larger companies or those trading for profit. The benefits of a rule with a clearly defined scope are argued to outweigh the limited interests that charities and smaller companies have in retaining the right to sue in defamation.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Ansgar Wohlschlegel (Supervisor)
  • Lisa Lyan Gibb (Supervisor)
  • Dr Lee Roach (Supervisor)
Award dateJan 2020
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ID: 21345311