You are the Judge – defamation dispute


The sixth scenario in our You are the Judge series is a defamation situation. It's the classic scenario - the big corporation versus the ordinary person - and what people believe defamation to be.

What do you think the correct answer is in this situation?

Josh, who is scrupulously honest, resigned from his consultant job at Lame Associates after a disagreement about their business ethics. He worked his notice, then left to work for another company.

He has just received an angry and abusive email from his former manager at Lame, accusing him of being dishonest and a thief. It doesn't explain in what sense. The email goes on to say that Josh should think himself lucky that his current employers have not been informed.
Josh is hurt by the accusations and worried about his reputation and has started a defamation claim against Lame. Lame have applied to have the case struck out, saying that there is no case to answer.

Who is correct, and what is the likely outcome?

The answer:

Despite the fact that Josh is honest, Lame are right about the case.

Calling Josh dishonest and a thief could be defamation, but in this case it is not. For a remark to be defamatory, it must be communicated to a third party, which does not seem to be the case here. That is the crucial point about defamation.

So whilst Lame have been incredibly rude to Josh, his reputation is sound until they publish the email. Instead of suing for defamation, which is a case he won't win, Josh could apply for an injunction to prevent Lame from publishing its allegations in the future.

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