Libel Dispute Case Study 

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A libel dispute led to a mediation between members of a gardening organisation. The committee was managed by a chairperson, who organised events and other members of the committee and the treasurer. A monthly newsletter was produced by the committee with an article from the chairperson. Due to ill health the treasurer wanted to retire from the committee and concentrate on her health.

A thank you to all her hard work over the years went out in the newsletter. Alongside the thank you a sentence appeared which was quite vague referring to ‘the accounts had to be checked through and corrected…money was missing.

When the treasurer contacted the chairperson about this, they advised that the new treasurer had noticed some discrepancies and he did not want to get the blame for anything, to observe transparency he communicated this in the newsletter. The treasurer took issue, as discrepancies could have meant, simple mistakes to fraudulent activities, equally as this was such a close knit community, people could easily start to make allegations out of idle gossip.

The chairperson refused to retract the statement and issue an apology, he advised that once a thorough investigation took place he would then consider an apology on his findings, by this time months had passed and allegations had started to accumulate.

A libel action was brought; mediation was suggested and arranged at the last minute. By this time both sides had racked up considerable legal fees, the mediation fleshed out each side’s main contentions, the chairpersons, discrepancies had been found they needed to be investigated, to clear ourselves of any potentially unfavourable situation we tried to be transparent and made the statement we did in our newsletter.

The treasurer, any discrepancies should have been discussed with her directly and as soon as they were identified, which most likely could have resolved this matter as soon as possible, rather than making the statement he did and both sides racking up colossal legal fees.

It transpired that following the investigation, the discrepancies were simple mistakes, made by the new treasurer and not the old, and everything was in order, it was agreed that the previous treasurers legal fees would be paid in full, as well as an apology and explanation issued in the next newsletter. Being satisfied with that damages were not pursued although originally pleaded; clearing her name was of more importance.

  • The mediation took 1 day compared to the 16 months this libel dispute had already gone on.
  • The mediation cost each party only a fraction, compared to the thousands they had already spent on legal fees and the thousands they would have had to spend had they continued with Court action.

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