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There are a number of substantive defences to a defamation claim, the majority of which are now, since the Defamation Act 2013 (DA 2013), statutory. Any number of defences may be relied upon together in answer to a claim.
There is a presumption that defamatory words are false and the burden of proving the words are true lies on the defendant. Proving that the substance of a defamatory statement is true is a complete defence. The defence of truth used to be known as justification, but this received statutory codification under DA 2013, s 2. The defence at common law was abolished and section 5 of the Defamation Act 1952 (DA 1952) was repealed.
Pleading and procedural requirements in defamation actions are governed by Practice Direction 53B to the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) and contain specific requirements for defences of truth. Note that CPR PD 53B replaced CPR PD 53 with effect from 1 October 2019 (see News Analyses: 109th practice direction update—July to October 2019 and New rules for media and communications claims from 1 October 2019).
It is the substance or essence of a defamatory allegation that needs to be proved true, not every detail of the publication.
If a defendant seeks to prove that the publication is true, it must set out its meaning in the defence and give particulars of the facts relied on
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