Can I be sued for libel if a private email, not for dissemination, was passed onto a third party who, in turn, passed it on to someone working for my old company?
Apologies for the convoluted query!
I was writing to a friend about the state of my old company – he knows it and some of the personnel. I expressed forthright views about the company’s finances (which can be verified as they are in the public domain), the competency of the management team and some of the trustees. I suggested to my friend that a forensic audit should take place because I thought some “creative ” accounting may have taken place.
My comments were solely for discussion between the two us; unfortunately, my friend passed on the email to someone else who appears to have forwarded it another person and it has ended up with my old company!
I believe that some of the people mentioned in my email have taken legal advice about my comments. As you can imagine, I am now worried that I could be facing legal action for expressing my personal views which were not intended for publication. I am also unemployed, receiving various benefits, rent my accommodation, and have no assets. Any advice you can give me would be hugely appreciated. Thank you!
Alasdair Taylor's Answer
Thanks for your question.
For the purposes of defamation, you only need to “publish” a message to one other person for there to be a “publication”. So, there is nothing in your description of the situation that suggest to me that an action would be barred because of the limited initial publication. There is a special defence in section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996 which sometimes protects authors in the case of accidental publications, but I don’t think it would apply here.
The content, as you describe it, sounds like it carries a defamatory imputation, maybe several; however a claimant would also need to show “serious harm” (section 1, Defamation Act 2013).
Of course, a claim may be defensible on the grounds of truth (section 2) or reasonable opinion (section 3).
One very practical “defence” here is your lack of assets. Libel claims are expensive, and most claimants won’t proceed unless they think they have a reasonable chance of recovering: (a) all or most of their legal costs; and (b) some measure of damages.