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I have been discussing some reporting of a high-profile trial with some colleagues.

We disagree on one point.

Background: High-profile figure acquitted by a Scottish court of a number of sexual assault charges of varying degrees of seriousness.

The trial hears evidence that the accused was guilty of some inappropriate behaviour, acknowledged by defence council.

One comment in an article, overwhelmingly hostile to the accused and with numerous comments where the writer appears to imply that the process was unfair, is as follows:

“The attempted rape charge was dismissed along with all the others, but the broader sentiment was endorsed.”

Is the above statement potentially defamatory?

None of us are legal experts but this may form part of a seminar for media students at some point.

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“The attempted rape charge was dismissed along with all the others, but the broader sentiment was endorsed.”

Is the above statement potentially defamatory?

No, or at least not in isolation. Although very unlikely, one might reach a different conclusion only if one is given additional context and/or additional contents of the article.

It appears that the focus of your question is the statement "the broader sentiment was endorsed". That statement does not appear to refer to the acquitted individual himself, but to the people or community who collectively hold(s) that "sentiment" (a sentiment which the statement does not even specify).

The statement is ambiguous also on whether "the broader sentiment" is about the accused for allegedly committing crime(s), or about the court for failing to serve justice. For a statement to be defamatory, it would have to [be false and] sufficiently identify --even if indirectly or by implication-- the entity to which the statement refers. The aforementioned ambiguity means that there was no identification, whence the fact-finder would need to assess whether a reasonable person will interpret that statement as referring to the accused/acquitted individual.

Furthermore, the fact that the incriminating evidence and/or individual's inappropriate behavior was acknowledged by his own counsel mostly bars that individual from arguing that the statement at issue defamed him. Counsel's acknowledgment largely renders the accused defamation-proof. This means that, given the circumstances, the statement in that article cannot possibly have added any harm to the individual's reputation.

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