I'm trying to sue someone in the UK for libel. (I'm in the US.) I've had some UK attorneys willing to take my case, but not on conditional fee. I recently contacted a pro bono organization there, and they declined to assist on the basis that I did not meet the "serious harm" threshold.

The content has the potential to cause me "serious harm" (I was accused of committing a crime and subjected to much online harassment because of this post), but I was unemployed at the time it was posted and have not yet applied to graduate programs. So there hasn't been any economic loss, but there may be. For example, I could be rejected for a job/grad. school if people on a grad. admissions committee believes the post and associates it with me. (I was doxxed bc of it.)

So how much could I sue for if a post was defamatory and has potential to cause damages but hasn't due to lack of pursuing employment/school?

Update: While I have not yet been able to sue this person, I have screenshots of all his harassment and sent them to the grad. programs he applied to last season; he didn't get into any.

Edit-I want to add that I was able to provide pictures to confirm his identity (which he shared online),as well as police correspondences, proof of him laughing at the police warnings on social media from his main account, him confirming on this main account that at least some of the fake accounts harassing me were him, etc. There was no doubt that the person I identified to these programs was him (in case it sounded like I made some random accusation).

  • 2
    Are you sure the "serious harm" threshold isn't just the pro bono organization's own threshold used to determine which cases are worth spending the organization's limited resources on?
    – Ross Ridge
    Sep 18, 2020 at 21:21
  • No, I'm not sure of that, but I think you're right. I'm going to keep trying...
    – user31745
    Sep 18, 2020 at 21:26
  • The UK did amend their libel laws to include that defamatory content must cause "serious harm," but (from what I understand) , it can also be future harm.
    – user31745
    Sep 18, 2020 at 21:27
  • 3
    Have those lawyers mentioned that UK libel cases typically cost hundreds of thousands of pounds? And if you lose (very likely if you try to represent yourself in a strange legal system) you will probably find yourself having to pay the winner's legal fees, unlike in the US. Sep 19, 2020 at 18:15
  • 1
    Paul is right to point out the huge costs of libel proceedings in the UK. A lawyer taking on the case would be concerned that the losing side (whether it is you or the other person) would not be able to afford to pay their fees, even if your case is strong. And even if you win, the other side could claim that your legal fees were excessive and that they should only pay a reduced amount. Depending on your circumstances (and theirs), you could as a first step just pay a lawyer to write a letter demanding damages and a public apology. Sep 23, 2020 at 15:34

1 Answer 1


“Serious harm” is a requirement in the Defamation Act 2013

The Supreme Court interpreted it in Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd & Anor [2019] UKSC 27 (12 June 2019) at [10-20]:

... it not only raises the threshold of seriousness above that envisaged in Jameel (Yousef) and Thornton, but requires its application to be determined by reference to the actual facts about its impact and not just to the meaning of the words.

You, as the plaintiff must prove on the balance of probabilities that you have or are likely to suffer serious harm. That is harm that is greater than the previous common law threshold of substantial.

In this case, the court agreed that serious harm had been done so it’s useful to consider what Lord Sumption said about the evidence that had (correctly) convinced the trial judge at [21] (my emphasis):

On the footing that (as I would hold) Mr Lachaux must demonstrate as a fact that the harm caused by the publications complained of was serious, Warby J held that it was. He heard evidence from Mr Lachaux himself and three other witnesses of fact, and received written evidence from his solicitor. He also received agreed figures, some of them estimates, of the print runs and estimated readership of the publications complained of and the user numbers for online publications. He based his finding of serious harm on (i) the scale of the publications; (ii) the fact that the statements complained of had come to the attention of at least one identifiable person in the United Kingdom who knew Mr Lachaux and (iii) that they were likely to have come to the attention of others who either knew him or would come to know him in future; and (iv) the gravity of the statements themselves, according to the meaning attributed to them by Sir David Eady. Mr Lachaux would have been entitled to produce evidence from those who had read the statements about its impact on them. But I do not accept, any more than the judge did, that his case must necessarily fail for want of such evidence. The judge’s finding was based on a combination of the meaning of the words, the situation of Mr Lachaux, the circumstances of publication and the inherent probabilities. There is no reason why inferences of fact as to the seriousness of the harm done to Mr Lachaux’s reputation should not be drawn from considerations of this kind. Warby J’s task was to evaluate the material before him, and arrive at a conclusion on an issue on which precision will rarely be possible. A concurrent assessment of the facts was made by the Court of Appeal. Findings of this kind would only rarely be disturbed by this court, in the absence of some error of principle potentially critical to the outcome.

So, you must prove that it is likely that prospective employers/schools will see the defamatory statements and that they are so grave that it is likely that you would be refused a position because of them.

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