A more recent version of these Defamation Liability notes – written by Cambridge/Bpp/College Of Law students – is available here.
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Tort: Defamation - Liability Introduction + General Principles
- Defamation: to protect c. from untrue statements that harm his reputation. (cf. malicious falsehood: untrue statement that does not damage reputation but does harm). balance between 2 interests:
1. public interest: freedom of expression.
? large variety of defences: to protect d's freedom of expression.
2. private interest: maintaining reputation.
+ Human Rights Act 1998: Art 10 ECHR - guarantees freedom of expression vs. Art 8 ECHR - right to private + family life.
[Winfield]: publication of a statement which reflects on a person's reputation and tends to lower him in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally or tends to make them shun or avoid him. Sim v Stretch : [Ld Atkin]: statement which tend to lower the claimant in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally, and in particular to cause him to be regarded with feelings hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear and disesteem.
2 Torts: Libel + Slander
- Libel: statement in some permanent form - e.g. pictures, printed words etc. ? actionable per se. radio + TV - s166 + s201 Broadcasting Act 1990. public plays - s4 Theatres Act 1968. waxworks - Monson v Madame Tussaud's Ltd : waxwork of c. placed in chamber of horrors; c. had been tried for murder but acquitted ? [Ropes LJ]: statues, caricatures, effigies, chalk marks, signs, pictures also.
films - Youssoupoff v MGM Pictures Ltd : film suggested c. had been raped by Rasputin internet - Godfrey v Demon Internet . inc. social networking (even if semi-private) - Applause Stores Productions Ltd v Raphael .
- Slander: statement in temporary/transitory form ? actionable only with proof of special damages (but 4 exceptions). transient forms: e.g. spoken word, gestures, mimes, impressions, noises. debate: audio stored on CD, tape, DVD ? [Winfield]: libel; vs. [Street]: slander (libel inherently visual). 4 exceptions - slander actionable per se if:
1. imputation of imprisonable offence: Gray v Jones ; Webb v Beavan .
2. imputation of having contagious/unsociable disease: Bloodworth v Gray .
3. imputation of unchasity of adultery in female: s1 Slander of Women Act 1891. Kerr v Kennedy : inc. suggestion that c. is (sexually active) lesbian.
4. imputation of unfitness for trade, profession or appointment: s2 Defamation Act 1952. e.g. Jones v Jones ; Hopwood v Muirson ; McManus v Beckham : Victoria Beckham told customers in shop that David Beckham's autograph for sale fake.
Locus Standi: Who Can Sue?
- Natural + legal persons can sue. natural persons: but not dead - if c. dies before trial, action dies with him. corporate bodies: where statement defames corporate reputation. McDonalds Corporation v Steel : McDonalds succeeded in libel suit vs. environmentalists.
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