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Defamation: What is it and what do I need to know?

For survivors of gender-based violence, it is useful to know about defamation: what it is and where or how the law might impact you. Defamation can be a complex area of law, so this short resource gives some initial helpful information on the topic.

What is defamation?

Defamation is when somebody says or writes something untrue and damages the reputation of another person.

Why is knowing about defamation important for survivors of gender-based violence?

Disclosing an experience of abuse can be a powerful step. For some, this can mean speaking to a loved one or to a support worker. For others, it can also mean disclosing the abuse on social media. At the same time, when deciding whether to make a public disclosure, it is very important to consider the legal risks in full. It is therefore, important to know what defamation is and is not, and what the legal consequences can be.

Defamation is not a crime in Scotland, but a defamation action can be raised against you in the civil (non-criminal) courts. This could result in a court case and the court ordering you to pay money, to the person who the statement was about.

For example, if someone, including a perpetrator, believes their reputation has been damaged by something that you posted about them on social media, they may bring a defamation action against you. Although there are defences to defamation actions - including that what you said was a true statement - this can be a complex area of the law and you may still end up involved in a court case.

Not naming the perpetrator in your social media post will not necessarily protect you from legal consequences. A defamation action can still be brought if the post has enough information to identify the individual.

What about the new law on defamation?

A new law on defamation was created in April 2021 and will come into force through regulations at a later date. When it does, we will update our resources to provide relevant advice and information. However, until then the old law still applies.

Where can I find more information about Defamation?

Defamation is a complex area of law so we would recommend that if you have any concerns, you speak to a solicitor about this. The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) have a “Find a Solicitor” service on their website where you can search for registered solicitors in your area. You can visit our Solicitor Signposting Network to find a solicitor who has completed our specialist domestic abuse training and whose work area focusses on civil litigation.

You can also find more information in our legal fact sheet ‘Making a Disclosure of Abuse on Social Media’ (PDF), or call our helpline on 08088 010 789 (please check our opening hours before phoning).


Other sources of information and support:

Scottish Womens Aid – Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline

Information and resources on domestic abuse and forced marriage are available on the SWA website.

Email: helpline@sdafmh.org.uk

24 Hour Helpline: 0800 027 1234

Rape Crisis Scotland

Visit Rape Crisis Scotland's website for more information, resources and support.

Telephone (General enquiries): 0141 331 4180 (9am-4pm, Monday-Friday)

Helpline: 08088 01 03 02 (Any day between 6pm – midnight)

Victim Support Scotland

Go to the Victim Support Scotland website for information if you have been affected by crime.

Telephone: 0800 160 1985 (8am-8pm, Monday-Friday)

Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA)

For information on making a compensation claim after experiencing a violent crime, go to CICA's website.

Telephone: 0333 3581 999

Scottish Legal Aid Board

If you are considering applying for legal aid, you can seek advice from the Scottish Legal Aid Board webite.

Telephone: 0131 226 7061

Contact Scotland BSL (BSL Interpretation)

Find more information about Contact Scotland’s free interpretation service by visiting their website.

Telephone: 0333 344 7712

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Helpline

08088 010 789

Our helpline is currently available at the following times:

- Tuesdays between 1PM and 4PM

- Wednesdays between 10AM and 1PM

Important: from 10 January 2022 our helpline is temporarily moving to a new format. You can read more about these changes here.

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