Response from Defamation Solicitors
Recently, I sought help to fund a consultation with defamation solicitors to discuss the legal position regarding newspapers referring to people as “far-right”, “fascist” or “racist” simply because we speak negatively about Islam. Those of us who do so are frequently subject to smears from the press, which portrays us bigots and liars.
See the Gofundme post here.
As promised, I met with a defamation solicitor in September and I post their full written response below. I want to sincerely thank all of those who have supported me in this and other endeavours. Thank you.
I will continue to challenge dishonest labelling in the media and continue to speak out for truth.
Solicitor’s response in full:
I write further to our consultation today. As agreed, I will very briefly summarise: –
There are essentially three things you complain about: 1) the suggestions that you are a neo-fascist/fascist/white racist right/anti-Muslim bigot, 2) the apparent suggestion in one Times article that you have sought to hide the fact that you were born in Ireland, and 3) the repeated/gratuitous references to your sexuality.
As a general/overarching point, I advised you that these complaints raise quite distinct legal and factual issues, which sadly can’t simply be bundled together. Similarly, and perhaps more significantly, I noted that the complaints concern an array of different publishers, and dealing with all of them may simply be infeasible.
- suggestions that you are a neo-fascist/fascist/white racist right/anti-Muslim bigot
Firstly, it is important to remember that these four terms all have different meanings, even though they may conjure up similar images. I have not seen any explicit/direct newspaper references to you being a fascist, or neo-fascist. Please point these out to me if there are any. Assuming there are none, we
would be relying on an indirect, or inference meaning, which necessarily tends to be more difficult. The word fascist is not actually that easy to define – people disagree on it. I would tend to agree with you that fascist or neo-fascist refers to someone who believes in a totalitarian/dictatorial system, but it might be said that fascist also means someone who believes in racial supremacy (as fascist Italy/Nazi Germany did). I have seen you directly described as a part of the ‘white racist right’ and an ‘anti-Muslim bigot’. These have arguably quite different meanings – literally someone who is white, on the right, and racist, and someone who is intolerant of Muslims, respectively.
In general/broad terms, if you were to sue any major news publication/journalist in defamation over these descriptions of you, then I think they would likely defend them, both on the grounds that they are true (accurate) or substantially true, and on the basis of honest opinion, and, finally on the grounds of publication in the public interest. The truth defence might ultimately fail, but my instinct is that the honest opinion defence would likely succeed. Furthermore, I think it unlikely that such proceedings would settle early, and I think there is a very good chance that they would result in significant adverse publicity for you (that the paper(s) might, effectively, go to war with you). You would need significant funding, and would be exposed to a huge costs risk. In short, my instinct is against any such action, but if you want more specific advice, then you would need to draw the specific words of a given article(s) to my attention.
- The apparent suggestion in one Times article that you have sought to hide the fact that you were born in Ireland
I think the headline of the article in question is arguably defamatory in that the words ‘hides her roots’ could be taken to mean dishonesty, and I can certainly see why you are upset with this. If sued upon, I think the Times would try to argue that the word ‘hides’ actually means something different, or somewhat less, than dishonesty. Furthermore, I think they would argue that any reader would be able to tell from the balance of the article that there was no such suggestion. Alternatively, they could simply say that it was true, or again, honest opinion. For these reasons, and for the same reasons given above vis-à-vis costs etc. I would not recommend taking action. Based on what you told me, I do think the headline is inaccurate (which is different from defamatory), but there is an exemption in the Data Protection Act (s.32) for journalistic material in the public interest, and since you are currently running for the leadership of a major political party, I think this defence would probably protect them in any DPA claim.
- the repeated/gratuitous references to your sexuality
The most relevant case is Trimingham, which we discussed. There is, naturally, nothing wrong with describing someone as a lesbian per se. It is not a pejorative term. It could be a misuse of someone’s private information if their sexuality was a secret, or especially closely guarded, but otherwise there is unlikely to be any cause for complaint. Repeated, gratuitous use of the term, could amount to harassment. However, I think in order to have a viable claim, we would need to have several, if not several dozen, articles by the same publisher in which they did this over and over again. I have not seen evidence of such a campaign.
For the reasons very briefly set out above, my instinct is that threatening/bringing legal proceedings would not be in your best interests. However, if you do want to take some sort of action, particularly in respect of item 2, above, then a way forward might be a complaint to IPSO on grounds of inaccuracy. A complaint to IPSO is unlikely to blow up in your face in quite the same way that legal threats might, and certainly would not prove financially ruinous. The idea would be to present you as someone who was not complaining about adverse press per se, and was certainly not interested in money etc., but who, on matters of principle, wanted to point out where the press had crossed the line/where the journalism wasn’t up to scratch etc. It might be a way to air your grievances about some of the reporting of you generally. Note that, as we discussed, the Guardian is not a member of IPSO.
As discussed, any work that we undertake, other than initial consultations, is charged in accordance with our terms of business (attached) by reference to our hourly rates, which are as follows: –
Partners £300 plus VAT
Solicitors £175-£250 plus VAT
Trainees/paralegals £135 plus VAT
The costs of us assisting you with a complaint to IPSO would naturally depend upon the scope of the complaint, and whether we just helped you with the initial drafting, or continued to offer you advice and assistance thereafter. If we were just complaining about item 2, and simply helped you draft the initial complaint, then costs might be between £1,000 and £1,500 plus VAT.
Please let me know if you have any queries or if you would like to proceed, either with the ISPO complaint or otherwise. Finally, note that any IPSO complaint must be made within 4 months of publication, and any defamation claim must be brought within 12 months of publication.
Good luck for September 28th.