Defamation law in Australia

Defamation is a statement published or spoken that negatively impacts the reputation of a person. Individuals or corporations that employ less than 10 people, not related to another corporation, can sue another person in court for defamation.

As there is no constitutional right to free speech, defamation in Australia is harsher and more difficult to avoid than in other countries. Each state and territory has slightly different rules regarding defamation, with Tasmania being the only state in which the estate of a deceased person can sue for defamation. Usually handled as a civil case solved financially, defamation is rarely treated as a criminal issue with jail time. The cap on general damages allowed to be received is currently $389,000, although aggravated damages and costs can be awarded on top of the cap amount.

There are three areas of defamation that can be used in a case:

  • Imputation
    The act of accusing, defamation through an imputation can be a statement or a visual. Imputation has to injure the defamed’s ability to make money or induce a loss of work as well as affect other people’s opinions of them.
  • Identification
    Identification is specific to a person or group of people, usually by adding personal details such as their place of work or physical description. There is no need for the defamed to outrightly be named if there are enough details to reasonably identify them.
  • Publication
    Defamatory material is made known to a third party other than the person being defamed. The publication can be oral, written or in picture form, where every time the material is viewed or heard, a separate publication occurs.

Whilst defamation in Australia is easier to come across, there are means of defence, the most common being truth. Truth as a defence is the justification, with evidence, that the defamatory material doesn’t lower a reputation but rather, corrects it. There is a standard of proof upheld in regards to this defence.

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