It has been observed that the number of defamation writs filed in the civil courts have been increasing over the years. This is most possibly a result of growing social media and instant messaging platforms that have made it easier for opinions to be publicly published.
Defamation is when a written or spoken statement injures a third party’s reputation. This constitutes a criminal offence under section 499 of the Penal Code. Hence, if you are a victim of defamation, you can choose to lodge a police report. The accused will then face police arrest if sufficient evidence shows that the maker of the statement intended, knew, or had reason to believe that the statement would harm your reputation.
As an alternative or subsequent actions, you may choose to make an application under the Protection from Harassment Act and/or commence a civil lawsuit for defamation.
That being said, civil court proceedings for defamation cases are often lengthy and costly as key issues typically centre around factual disputes which are time-consuming. As such, the State Courts have introduced a mandatory “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation Actions” to help parties understand their cases better and encourage an amicable resolution before commencing court proceedings. The Pre-Action Protocol consists of standard forms for claims and responses aimed at improving communication and negotiations.
The first step is to address a “letter of claim” to the potential defendant, requiring the claimant to include, amongst others, the following information:
- Sufficient details to identify the publication or broadcast which contained the words complained of
- The exact words complained of and the date of publication or broadcast (if known), enclosing a copy, screenshot or transcript of the words where possible
- Sufficient details of the factual inaccuracies or unsupportable comments within the words complained of to enable the potential defendant to appreciate why the words are inaccurate or unsupportable
- The remedies sought by the claimant (eg, monetary damages, retraction, clarification, apology, undertaking)
- The proposed Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) option to be used
The potential defendant must then provide a response within 14 days of the receipt of your “letter of claim” (unless otherwise stated in the letter) indicating the extent to which your claim is accepted, rejected, or if more information is required. In the event that you do not receive any response, you are entitled to commence proceedings. However, if the potential defendant issues a counterclaim, you are subsequently required to provide a response to the counterclaim. Ideally, you and the potential defendant should come into an agreement on the mode of ADR and enter into the ADR process. Nevertheless, if you are unsure on which steps to take or how to take them, please contact our criminal lawyers who can help to assess your case and assist you in navigating your legal options.