Although there is no single definition of what a defamatory statement is, a defamatory statement made against someone is one which is untrue and has one or more of the following effects:
- lowers them in the estimation of 'right-thinking' members of society generally;
- disparages them in their business, trade, office or profession;
- exposes them to hatred, ridicule or contempt; or
- causes them to be shunned or avoided.
Whether the words are defamatory depends on the precise words used. The words are judged by the standards of society generally at the time the defamatory statement or publication was made.
Under the Defamation Act 2013, a new requirement of 'serious harm' was introduced. This means that it is necessary to establish that the defamatory statement must have caused (or would be likely to cause) serious harm to the claimant.
Serious harm to the reputation of a business or company can only be proven if the defamatory statement caused serious financial loss.