The Defamation Claim Trumped By POTUS

The tort of defamation is governed by a combination of statute and common law. Since the statutes are silent on the definition of 'defamation', this cause of action is notoriously difficult to prove.

The 2016 case of Malik v Trump serves as a high profile example of just how complex a defamation claim can be to navigate and the need for Claimants to consider carefully the materials upon which they propose to rely when pleading defamatory meaning.

Mr Malik, a British Muslim and leader of the Communities United Party brought a claim under the Defamation Act 2013 against Donald J Trump (the then Republican Party nominee for the US Presidential election) in relation to statements made by Mr Trump during his campaign.

In the course of his campaign, Mr Trump was quoted widely (although non-approvingly) by the press in the UK and his statements referencing people of the Muslim faith were reported worldwide. Mr Malik (acting as a litigant in person) based his claim on various newspaper articles which included the claim (amongst others) that 'We have places in London and other places that are so radicalised the police are afraid for their own lives.' Mr Malik claimed that such statements had caused severe loss to the Muslim community in East London's Green Street and were defamatory.

Whilst the court recognised that the statements made by Mr Trump may have caused tangible upset and offence to the Muslim community, it held that Mr Malik's claim did not satisfy Practice Direction 53 (2.3) of the Civil Procedure Rules insofar as he had failed to plead defamatory meaning for the following reasons:

1. Although the above quote mentioned 'places in London', a reasonable reader could not conclude that Green Street was the 'place' referred to or that Mr Malik could be identified personally within that location. As a result, the words Mr Trump used could not be used to identify the Claimant.

2. By citing newspaper articles which quoted but condemned Mr Trump's assertions, Mr Malik was unable to demonstrate that the entirety of the words were defamatory, not merely the content of the quotation. Consequently, whilst Mr Malik intended to prove that the words Mr Trump used were defamatory; in relying on his specific pleaded articles, he could not do so.

To be a successful Claimant in a defamation claim, Mr Malik was required to prove:

  • The words or publication were published to one or more persons;
  • The Claimant was identifiable from the words or publication;
  • The words or publication lowered the Claimant in the estimations of right thinking members of society; and
  • That the words or publication caused or were likely to cause serious harm to the Claimant's reputation.

Despite being founded on tangible upset and distress, Mr Malik's claim was struck out. Malik v Trump therefore affirms the literal judicial interpretation of defamation in statute and thus confirms the court is unlikely to favour the freedom to be upset over freedom of speech at this time.

If you believe you have been affected as a result of statements or publications made about you, particularly where those actions have resulted in tangible loss and you would like some clear advice and guidance about your options, our Dispute Resolution team can assist. To get in touch, call 01603 723786 to discuss your matter in confidence.