Submitted for public criticism

The allegation was that the plaintiff was sentenced to a fine of 1s or to 3 days' imprisonment with hard labour in default of travelling without a ticket. In fact, the allegation of hard labour was false. The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded GBP250. The defendant may widen the meaning of the words relied on by the plaintiff to show that they impute a more general wrongdoing than that imputed in a particular instance. Williams v Reason [1988] The allegation was that the plaintiff, an amateur rugby player had written a book for money and thereby compromised his status as a amateur.

In pleading justification the defendant was allowed to introduce evidence showing the plaintiff to have received 'boot money' from a manufacturer of sports equipment was allowed. The sting of the libel was 'Shametuerism' and not merely the writing of the book. The meaning of the words complained of must always be assessed in light of the publication as a whole, and the precise context and circumstances of its communication. The defendant may only justify a meaning, which the words are reasonably capable of bearing.

Bookbinder v Tebbit [1989] The defendant had alleged at a public meeting, that the plaintiff had squandered $50K of public money in over-printing stationary with the caption 'Support Nuclear Free Zone'. CA held that it was not possible to justify that allegation by pointing to other alleged instances of squandering public funds. However, a statutory analogue to the common law's 'sting' doctrine (which applies only to a single defamatory charge) has been introduced through the s. 5 Defamation Act 1952. Robson v News Group Newspapers

An allegation that the defendant had defrauded the department of Social Security was held not to materially injure the plaintiff's reputation having regard to the effect of the true allegation that he had been convicted of $4m mortgage fraud. Multiple Allegations Where the defendant makes multiple allegations against the claimant, the question is whether the allegations share a common sting or convey separate and distinct imputations. A common sting may be justified notwithstanding the defendant's failure to prove the truth of every specific allegation in the publication.

Bonnard v Perryman [1891] The basic rule (where the words contain two or more distinct charges) is that the defence of justification, if it is to succeed, must address each of the meanings attributed to the words by the jury. s5 Defamation Act 1952 If words contain 2 or more distinct charges, a defence of justification will not fail merely because the truth of every charge is not proved if the words not proved to be true do not materially affect the plaintiff's reputation, having regard to the true charges.

Polly Peck (Holdings) PLC v Trelford [1986] If the impugned statement is characterised not as containing several, distinct imputations, but as comprising a whole, with a common sting, D may successfully plead justification by showing that the common sting is true. Cruise v Express News Papers plc [1999] It is no defence to a charge that 'You called me A to say, yes, but I also called you B on the same occasion and that was true', if there are two or more distinct defamatory statements. Khashoggi v IPC Magazines Ltd [1986]

K was featured in an article that contained a highly coloured account of her marriage. It was capable of carrying the meaning that she was a woman of considerable sexual enthusiasm. In the article was an allegation that the last straw for her husband was an affair that she was having with a friend, CA held that the defendants were entitled to raise a Polly Peck form of justification on the basis that the sting of the article was promiscuity and it was not in the circumstances more defamatory to allege an extra-marital affair with one person rather than another.

The defendants might adduce evidence to justify that common sting even though they might not be able to prove the particular affairs complained. The ruling in Khashoggi could have reduced the impact of Bonnard. The 'Rumour' doctrine It is no defence that the defendant was merely repeating what had been told (Stem v Piper [1997]). If one repeats a rumour one adds one's own authority to it and implies that it is well founded, that is to say, its true (Lewis v Daily Telegraph).

Aspro Travel Ltd v Owners Abroad Group [1996] CA accepted that there might be circumstances in which the existence of a rumour entitles a person to repeat that rumour even before he satisfies himself that the rumour is true and that in such circumstances it is possible to plead in justification that there were in truth such rumours. The key question is how a defendant's words are to be construed. Cadman v Beaverbrook Newspaper Ltd [1959]

Where the defendant reports the issuing of a writ against the claimant indicating what the claimant is alleged to have done wrong, the jury must ascertain the report's true meaning, before it can be determined whether the issuing of the writ itself amounts to justification Stem v Piper [1997] CA struck out a defence of justification where the defendant's newspapers had quoted from a witness statement, which was to be relied upon in debt proceedings against the plaintiff.

It was not enough that the allegations in question had indeed been taken from a witness statement, as they were still essentially hearsay. The court attached particular importance to the one-sidedness of the report and the undesirability of private court documents being disseminated to the public. Allegations of criminal conduct If the charge is that the claimant is guilty of criminal offence, the defendant need only point to the fact of the claimant's conviction for the offence by way of justification.

However, under the Rehabilitation Act maliciously publishing details of a 'spent' conviction prohibits the reliance on the defence of justification. s13 Civil evidence Act 1968 A criminal conviction in a criminal court is conclusive proof that the convicted person committed crime. s8 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 A spent conviction may be used for justification, fair comment or qualified privilege in the absence of malice. (b) Fair Comment A comment is fair comment if it is based on facts and is made in good faith on a matter of public interest.

Malicious motive will crush a defence of fair comment. The judge decides the following as matters of law: – Whether the words used are capable of being statements of facts – Whether the subject in law is open to comment – Whether there is reasonable evidence to go to the jury that the comment was not fair. Jury: If the judge decides those in the affirmative, the issue of unfairness goes to the jury. The defence of fair comment on a matter of public interest is a complete defence to an action for defamation.

The defence is available only for comments on public interest or matters, which have been submitted for public criticism. If the subject matter of the comment does not fall into this category, the defendant must rely on truth or privilege. This defence only applies to expression of opinion, not to statements of fact. The defendant must prove that the statement was a comment (not fact). The distinction between fact and comment depends not just upon the content of the allegation but also on their context, and the mater of their expression.