Ijaz Butt last week withdrew his match-fixing comments about the England cricket team. He had been specifically asked to apologise or face legal action; however it would appear that a withdrawal has been accepted by the England and Wales Cricket Board Chairman (ECB), Giles Clarke.
Part of the statement released said: “I deeply and sincerely regret that my statements have been interpreted to cast doubt upon the good names of the England players and the ECB and hope that this public withdrawal will draw a line under the matter.”
Butt will in all likelihood have received what is known as a Letter Before Action. This letter is subject to and forms part of the provisions of the Defamation Pre-Action Protocol. Pre-Action Protocols are a set of rules contained within the Civil Procedure Rules setting out steps that parties should take before the commencement of legal proceedings. Pre-action protocols have been introduced in order to establish clear standards for parties preparing to bring a court action. They are intended to improve communication between the two sides and, if possible, allow cases to be resolved without going to court. Different Pre-Action Protocols exist specific to different claims.
Defamation involves the communication of remarks to others which may tend to lower the subject of the remarks in the minds of right thinking members of society generally. There are 2 types of defamation; Slander is a transient communication such as talking whereas Libel refers to remarks in a permanent form such as a written or printed document. The essential elements to any defamation claim are that;
- there must have been a defamatory remark and;
- the person about whom it is made must be identifiable and;
- the remark must have been published.
Ijaz Butt arguably made defamatory remarks regarding the English Cricket team which have subsequently been published worldwide. Members of the team could arguably therefore commence a claim for slander against Butt for the comments he made, and also a claim for libel against any broadcasters who subsequently published them.
In bringing an action for defamation you are normally seeking an immediate correction or apology, therefore it is important to act quickly. Any claimant must comply with the Pre-Action Protocol before a claim is commenced in order to avoid potential sanctions imposed by the court. The protocol requires the claimant to write to the maker of the defamatory statement at the earliest opportunity. The letter should include details of the publication or broadcast complained about, such as the date of publication, an outline of the inaccuracies in the material and the nature of the remedy expected.
A Defamation Letter Before Claim will generally require three actions of the defendant in order to settle the problem without litigation;
- the defendant will be required to provide an unqualified withdrawal of the allegations referred to in the case by a certain time on a set date and;
- the defendant will be required to give an undertaking in set terms, which are attached in a schedule to the letter, not to make the same or similar allegations in the future.
- Finally the defendant will be required to put forward proposals to pay compensation to the claimant for reputation damage; as well as covering all the legal costs incurred.
The defendant should indicate whether the claim is accepted or not as soon as possible. If they wholly or partly accept the claim, the defendant should indicate which remedies are to be offered. If rejecting the claim, they must explain why or alternatively, the defendant may request more information to help deal with the claim. Ignoring the Letter Before Action could potentially increase the defendants liability for legal costs.
The use of pre-action protocol has clearly been advantageous in this case since Butt has withdrawn his comments which has saved both parties the time and expense of a potentially long drawn out litigation.