Libel cases are no longer the preserve of celebrity claimants, with the number of defamation cases brought by businesses trebling in the past 12 months.
Research by Sweet & Maxwell, the legal information company, and Addleshaw Goddard, the law firm, indicates a trend for companies to defend their reputations in the courts. Sixteen such cases were brought in the year ending May 31, compared with just five in the preceding 12 months.
Companies that choose to bring libel cases join Tesco, which sued The Guardian in 2008 over an article about the supermarket’s tax arrangements. The case was settled after the newspaper printed a front-page apology.
Celebrities, meanwhile, are relying less on traditional libel cases, favouring instead another litigation tool: the injunction.
Reported defamation cases involving celebrities dropped 59 per cent, from 22 in 2009-10, to nine in 2010-11, according to the research.
“The increased use of anonymity orders in privacy claims has enabled well-known individuals to prevent anything being published at all,” said Korieh Duodu, a barrister at Addleshaw. “This will in some cases prevent the need for the individual to sue for libel after the event.”
The research points to a trend for defamation cases to originate from social media posts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Only two defamation cases in English and Welsh courts in 2006-07 cited social media. This rose to 16 in 2010-11.
The findings come three months after the country’s most senior judge, Lord Judge, claimed technology was “out of control” and questioned whether lies “peddled” on sites could be curtailed through damages or injunctions.
The naming of celebrities who had allegedly taken out “gagging orders” by a Twitter user led to political debate on privacy law and the efficacy of injunctions in the internet age.
At least 30 are thought to have been granted by the High Court. David Cameron, prime minister, has said he is uneasy about judges granting injunctions without the say-so of parliament.
A report by Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, recommended that super-injunction hearings be open to the media as much as possible and that the court should provide a reasoned judgment when anonymised orders are made.
With additional reporting by Jane Croft
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