A person can be defamed when another publishes something about them to a third party or parties, which has the effect of harming or damaging their reputation (including their commercial, business or professional reputation). Publication can occur verbally or in a written form (for example, by letter or newspaper article, or in more recent times by e-mail, search engine result, internet blog or social media post).

Johnston Withers has for many decades practised in the highly complex and technical area of defamation law – both making claims and defending them. The firm currently has two senior lawyers with particular knowledge and expertise in the area (including in the developing area of internet defamation).

We have acted in a number of high profile cases, including Chakravarti v Advertiser Newspapers, which went to the High Court. In this case, our client was awarded what was at the time by far the highest amount of damages ever in a defamation action in South Australia.

We regularly act for clients who have had their personal reputations damaged, as well as those who have had their professional and business reputations harmed and suffered loss as a result.

With the emergence of the internet as a means of communication, we have been required to act for clients who have been defamed on social media (such as Facebook), through search engine results (such as Google results) or by anonymous online bloggers. We have been able to assist these clients including by:

  • requiring Facebook users to delete defamatory posts and publish apologies;
  • having Google remove search results;
  • obtaining Court orders for the production of details of anonymous bloggers.

Johnston Withers also has experience in relation to claims for injurious falsehood (aka malicious falsehood). This is a related area of law to that of defamation. Because of changes to defamation law in recent years, injurious falsehood has become more significant, especially where a business has been damaged by false allegations about it.

The law of defamation is complex and potential plaintiffs should seek legal advice as early as possible. There is a strict one year limitation period to institute Court proceedings for defamation.