Defamation is often raised where reputational harm has been done to a person online. This may be in the form of a damaging Google review or false Facebook or other social media post.
It shouldn't be forgotten that a person can be defamed anytime a false statement is published and can extend to frivolous complaints made to the police about a person.
In a recent Queensland District Court decision, the plaintiff successfully recovered damages against his ex-girlfriend for defamatory statements she made to the police that he was harassing her after their relationship had ended. Relevantly, the woman's complaint to the police was made after she had separated from the plaintiff following the plaintiff's discovery that she had been in a relationship with another man for 7 years, while also in a relationship with the plaintiff.
The complaint to the police was said to contain imputations that the plaintiff was petty, vengeful, dishonest and the kind of person who engages in domestic violence.
In her defence, the defendant claimed her comments to the police were protected by "qualified privilege" at common law. This defence means in certain relationships (such as with the police), people should be able to speak freely, without the risk of a claim for defamation.
The court rejected the defence applied. The court said this defence could have applied if a person (such as the defendant) made a complaint to police that she thought she was honestly being harassed. That did not occur in this case. The conduct that the defendant complained about was not an offence and the court said police have no interest in receiving "gossip or adverse commentary" about a person. This means, the defence did not arise.
The defendant also attempted to argue the defence of triviality applied - that is, that the defendant's complaint to the police did not harm the plaintiff's reputation because the police did not action the complaint. The court rejected this and found the plaintiff was likely to suffer harm to his reputation (albeit in this case minor).
The case is a timely reminder that no matter what you say, or who you say it to - you should act honestly and genuinely. Otherwise, there is a real risk that you could face a claim for defamation.
Emma Lewis, Lawyer
(07) 3307 4546