Johnston Withers

Defamation lawyers.

What others say about you matters.

If you’ve experienced reputational damage as a result of defamatory comments or if you need to defend a defamation claim, we can help.

Defamation laws attempt to strike a balance between protecting a person's reputation and allowing freedom of speech. If you’re not sure how to deal with defamation of character or if you can claim damages for loss of reputation, or if you’ve received a concerns notice or claim alleging something you said or wrote was defamatory, it’s important to seek legal advice from a specialist defamation law firm as quickly as possible.

Defamation law is complex, and if you don’t seek help as early as possible, you may not be able to receive defamation compensation or might lose your opportunity to defend a claim. You only have 28 days after receiving a concerns notice or a claim brought in South Australia's Magistrates, District or Supreme Court to respond, and there is a strict one year limitation period to institute court proceedings for defamation.

There can be serious consequences if you do not act within this time.

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How we can help

Our defamation lawyers in Adelaide and regional South Australia have experience in both making claims and defending them. We regularly act on behalf of clients who’ve experienced personal reputational damage, as well as those who’ve had their professional and business reputations harmed and subsequently suffered a loss.

Our defamation solicitors have won some of the most significant defamation compensation payments in South Australia, including Chakravarti v Advertiser Newspapers, which went to the High Court. In that case, our client was awarded the highest amount of damages ever paid in a defamation action in South Australia at the time.

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In Australia, defamation of character occurs when a person publishes material about you to a third party or parties, which effectively harms or damages your reputation. This includes commercial, business, and professional reputational damage.

Defamatory content can be published verbally or in written form, including by letter, in a newspaper article, or online.

As of 1 July 2021, amendments to the Defamation Act came into force, which introduced the ‘serious harm threshold test’.

From this date, a person must have suffered, or be likely to suffer, serious harm to their reputation as a result of the defamatory publication to be eligible for defamation compensation. If a corporation has been defamed, it must have suffered, or be likely to suffer, serious financial loss. But it’s important to note that not all corporations can sue for defamation.

The emergence of the internet as a primary means of communication has led to a surge in defamation of character on social media.

Our defamation solicitors have experience advising clients who have been defamed online through social media platforms, search engine results, and anonymous online bloggers.

We’ve assisted these clients by:

  • Seeking that social media users, including on Facebook, delete defamatory posts and publish apologies

  • Having Google remove search results that contain defamatory content

  • Obtaining court orders for the production of anonymous bloggers’ details

Also known as malicious falsehood, injurious falsehood is an area of law closely related to defamation.

Due to the changes to defamation law in recent years, injurious falsehood has become increasingly significant, especially where a business has been damaged by false allegations made about it.

Our recent experience

Johnston Withers is a leading defamation law firm, and our defamation solicitors have a significant history of being involved in seminal defamation judgments. Our experience includes:

Online search engines and forums

  • Our defamation solicitors successfully established, on first instance and on appeal, that Google (and other search engines) can be liable as secondary publishers of defamatory material authored and posted by others when the search engine result reproduces this material. This decision has become an authority for plaintiff lawyers nationally, and has been followed in a number of Court decisions around Australia since. Read more about this decision here.

  • We successfully obtained injunctive orders in the Supreme Court against American chat forum Reddit for the removal of defamatory material.

  • We acted for a former AFL player in District Court proceedings against Google for material that appeared when searching his name. The matter was successfully resolved at mediation.

Written publications

  • Our defamation solicitors acted for a publisher in the District Court trial and in the Supreme Court appeal with respect to written statements published in a newsletter and in an email circulated to church members. On appeal, we successfully reduced the damages awarded by $50,000 (to $25,000) on the basis that some of the imputations complained of were not made out.

Social media publications

  • We successfully acted for a business owner in a matter where defamatory comments were removed from Facebook. An apology was given to the business owner and their legal costs were paid, without court proceedings needed.

  • Our defamation solicitors acted for a celebrity chef who was being harassed by a pseudonym Instagram account. We put together evidence that pointed towards a likely publisher, and issued a concerns notice, which resulted in the pseudonym Instagram account being deleted and the defamatory behaviour stopping.

  • We acted for a publisher who posted allegedly defamatory material on Facebook that didn’t name the aggrieved person but included facts so only a specific group of people could identify them. We successfully resolved the matter without court proceedings, by raising the defence of qualified privilege and offering the aggrieved person an apology and a nominal amount for costs.

Print media publications

  • Our defamation solicitors acted on behalf of a client who was defamed by the Advertiser and, shortly after. lost his job. Proceedings were issued in the Supreme Court and defended fiercely by the Advertiser on the basis that the imputations were not made out, it was a fair and accurate report of a Royal Commission hearing and (in the alternative) that it was true. The litigation took over seven years to resolve (with a number of appeals even to the High Court), and established important legal principles that has made the matter an authority on defamation throughout Australia and internationally. Read more about this decision here.

  • We acted for a client who was defamed by the Sunday Mail, where proceedings were issued in the District Court and the Sunday Mail defended the action on the grounds of truth, contextual truth and qualified privilege. The trial judgment found that some of the imputations were not defamatory and the others were justified. On behalf of our client, we successfully appealed this decision and the Full Court found the article was defamatory and awarded our client $75,000. The Sunday Mail sought leave from the High Court to appeal this judgment but was unsuccessful.

  • We issued a concerns notice to the Advertiser for an article they published online (on both their website and Facebook), which was defamatory of our client. We successfully resolved the matter without the need for litigation, which resulted in the Advertiser removing the article and paying our client damages and costs.

Meet the defamation team

Richard Bradshaw-Johnston Withers Lawyers

Richard Bradshaw

Special counsel
Johnston Withers Lawyers Caitlin Walkington 2

Caitlin Walkington

Practice leader: Litigation
Laura Helmore - Johnston Withers Lawyers

Laura French

Senior Lawyer

News & views from the defamation team

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Protecting your business online: Lessons learnt from the recent High Court cases of Voller and Defteros

Lessons learnt from the recent High Court cases of Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Voller [2021] HCA 27 and Google LLC v Defteros [2022] HCA 2. Prepared by Caitlin Walkington and Richard Bradshaw.

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Landmark case: Duffy v. Google Inc

The 2015 Supreme Court of South Australia case of Duffy v Google Inc. and the 2017 Full Court Appeal are well known amongst defamation lawyers throughout Australia as highly significant decisions. They determined that Google and other search engines can be liable as secondary publishers of defamatory material authored and/or posted by others where search results reproduce such material.

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Defamed on the internet? The courts can help

Our firm has been involved in two actions before the South Australian Supreme Court in which the Court has been prepared to make findings and orders protecting defamed plaintiffs.

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Need defamation legal advice? We’re proud to have helped protect hundreds of South Australians against reputational damage and defamation.

When experience matters, we’re here to help you, too.

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