Is Truth a Defence to Defamation?

Updated: Jan 4

In simple terms, yes, truth is a defence to defamation.  This defence is also known as justification.  However, the defence is not always straight forward. 

To successfully defend a defamation claim, a defendant needs to show that the defamatory imputations complained about (as opposed to the published statements) are "substantially true". 

What is the distinction between "statements" and "imputations"?

The distinction between published "statements" and the "imputations" that may arise is best seen in the following case example:

Newspaper articles were published about an architect who designed a building. 

The statements were that:

  • the building leaked like a sieve; and

  • workers in the building had to bring plastic buckets to work to catch the dripping water. 

The imputation which arose was that the architect was professionally negligent and incompetent.

The court accepted that the building leaked.  This meant that the statements were true.

However, the fact that these statements were true, did not necessarily mean (and it was not proved) that the imputations (about the architect being negligent and incompetent) were true. 

Therefore, no defence was available and substantial damages were awarded.

So while "truth" is a defence to defamation, the truthfulness must be in the imputations that are said to arise, rather than in the statements that are made.

If you have any queries about whether you have a "truth" defence to a defamation claim, please contact our Defamation Law team.

John Sneddon, Partner: (07) 3307 4504

Kimberley Forman, Senior Associate: (07) 3307 4523

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