View Full Version : Slander and Libel

Anthony Carn
22nd Oct 2002, 19:35
Can someone explain slander and libel and how not to commit them on PPRuNe ? :confused:

I have'nt got much of a clue and am getting a little bit neurotic, mainly on other forums where the subjects are, perhaps, more likely to cause a problem.

The Ulrikakakaka thread sparked this off..............

22nd Oct 2002, 19:44
key is to remember slander is said and libel is written .. what actually then constitutes the slur on the individual kinda sorta depends on how they were regarded prior to the written/spoken alleged slur etc etc ... 'tis quite complicated and others way better qualified than I to pronounce on this should now do so!!


tony draper
22nd Oct 2002, 20:22
But its still ok to punch other prooners though init??.:rolleyes:

Kalium Chloride
22nd Oct 2002, 20:32
Slander is to do with the spoken word, so you needn't worry about that on this forum.

Libel is a different kettle of fish, and a lot more dangerous.

In a nutshell: You libel someone if you publish in permanent form, and distribute to a third party, any statement or suggestion which lowers the reputation of an identifiable individual in the eyes of a right-minded average member of the public.

Under British law, the person accused of committing a libel is entirely responsible for proving the case. The accuser needs to prove absolutely nothing. That's what makes libel such a minefield in the UK.

Although there are cases where libel is obvious, the real problem occurs when you unintentionally libel someone. Printing their photograph next to an inappropriate headline, for example, or using a headline which has unpleasant connotations in another language or culture. And of course, the classic: repeating a libel originally printed in another publication, thinking that you're immune because it wasn't your mistake. You're not.

Send Clowns
22nd Oct 2002, 20:42
The only defense if you say something nasty is that it is not only true but in the public interest to disseminate the information. However the bizarre British courts seem to interpret "in the public interest" as "the public is interested". Since they are interested in any bit of scurrulous gossip that is not going to be a problem.

Kalium Chloride
22nd Oct 2002, 23:07
There are three primary defences against libel. But the circumstances of each still have to be carefully examined.

Basically if you're on the sharp end, you can plead:

* Truth - but it's not enough to believe something is true. You have to be able to PROVE it. That's the catch (and the reason why journalists can't publish half the stuff they'd like to).

* Fair Comment - which means essentially that you're writing your honest opinion. But you have to be able to show that your opinion is reasonable and genuine.

* Privilege - which means that you're fairly and accurately reporting statements given inside a court of law, governmental inquiry, or similar official proceeding.

There's also a couple of other weaker defences which are more like damage-limitation exercises, involving corrective apologies and so on, in cases where the libel has been made innocently (perhaps by a coincidence in people's names) despite due care and attention.

Send Clowns
23rd Oct 2002, 18:15
KC - UK law is different. It must be both true and in the public interest. This is a kind of right to privacy, though it only became explicitly such recently under a UK implementation of European law, the Human Rights Act.

Kalium Chloride
23rd Oct 2002, 19:14
Clowns, I was actually referring to UK law in my post. But you're right -- you can't expect to get away with calling someone a [email protected] if it's irrelevant to the story in question, even if it happens to be true. :D

23rd Oct 2002, 20:28
Ah, the old libel debate again. Well, let's see... how about this:

Neil Duncan Robertson, born Giles Cecil Michie, 5th October 1965 Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Let's not confuse this Robertson with any other Robertson. This Robertson is also known as: The Guvnor, Scarebus321, Sid's Stars, Clipper 103, SAS23, Simba101, Danny's Boy, ACMI Man, Jonathan L Seagull, C Montgomery Burns, Lawyergirl, Her Maj Brenda to name but a few of his known aliases.

This Robertson claims to be an experienced airline pilot but I have information to show that he has never held any professional pilots licence except forgeries. Apart from all his other claims to be an expert in aviation and having multiple degrees from several universities including St Andrews in Scotland and the University of South Africa in Pretoria, including Child Psychology.

He has posted to various internet newsgroups dealing with children and sexual issues and he has claimed in those newsgroups to be a child psychologist specialising in child sex abuse. He has also posted at the same time that he was a psychologist that he was an airline executive running an airline.

Here is a picture of Robertson dressed in full airline uniform. Remember he has never had a professional pilots licence. http://www.pprune.org/images/ndrpilotnot.jpg

Theres more but I can't be bothered wasting any more of my time on a liar and a fraudster such as Neil Robertson, I repeat, he is a liar and a fraud. My lawyers are Weightmans Vizards and you can contact my lawyer at their Liverpool offices if you wish to dispute my statements.

As you can all see, the above could be construed as a libel. Should any of you make any inference to anything other than my statement then I will not allow it on here unless you have solid evidence. You can of course form your own opinions but please keep them to yourself.

To all the other people who who like Robertson or are involved with him in business :rolleyes: then please realise who you are actually dealing with.

23rd Oct 2002, 21:08
From memory, libel has to be untrue, known to be untrue and damaging.

'Danny is a topping bloke who is loved by one and all' cannot be libellous since it is not damaging.

According to a mate of mine there is a defence that 'base insult' may not be construed as libel. Or as he put it after a threat of legal action was levelled at him by the wife of a barrister:

'I'ts not libel is it's a base insult you stupid cow so sue me for that if you want'.


Kalium Chloride
23rd Oct 2002, 21:47
I'd have thought that a "base insult" probably counts as honest opinion and is therefore defensible under "Fair Comment". As long as you believe it and mean it.

By the way, just because a statement isn't defamatory doesn't mean it can't cause you trouble. While not actually a case of libel, I had a run-in with the owner of a club who protested that a news item we'd run didn't make his establishment look disreputable enough.

Turns out that the club was a cover for prostitution, and Mr Club-Owner thought our article might drive away potential punters. :rolleyes:

Incidentally Danny, I'm with you 100% when it comes to Mr Robertson especially given the conversations I've had this week with authorities north of the border.

24th Oct 2002, 13:40
Libel cases are always heard in the High Court with a jury and you can't get legal aid, no matter how appalling or malicious the libel.

There is little more than a handful of legal firms specialising in this field and their fees, not to mention those of a decent QC to fight the case, are astronomical. Consequently this is not a course of action for anyone less than the very well-heeled indeed. If you lose, you pay for everything.

Anthony Carn
25th Oct 2002, 18:49
It occurs to me that all the descriptions given above relate to libel against individuals . My understanding is now much clearer in this respect. Many thanks to all.

However, am I immune if I make comments about organisations or companies ?

Two possibilities spring to mind :

(a) -- I name the organisation or company.
(b) -- I refer to the organisation or company as "that lot" or "the company" (for example).


25th Oct 2002, 20:27
Anthony Carn - you can libel a company or organisation in the same way that you can libel an individual. However, you can't libel a group of people such as lawyers, journalists, pilots etc.

You can't get around the libel laws by merely hinting at the identity of a company or individual rather than explicity naming them. If their identity is obvious to "right-thinking" members of the public then it can be libellous.

25th Oct 2002, 21:08
Well of course you can't libel journalists or lawyers. By definition, libel has to lower their reputation!! :D :D

25th Oct 2002, 22:02
ORAC, I do wish you would stop discouraging them. I am particularly enjoying Kalium. I do not myself practise in the area of defamation, but it seems to me a good rule is: Whatever
hilarious bit of abuse you come up with, keep it to yourself. I could be disbarred for putting that in the public domain, for undue cruelty to and business interruption of deserving pettifoggers.

To get back to Kalium, what does he or she, or as is said these days, they mean by UK law? Is it English Common Law? Or is it Scots Law? Or do Stair, Erskine and Bell mean nothing to him, her or them? And are there no relevant statutes?

I do not practise in England, but I love Kalium's Rule on "base insult". A decade or so ago the late Auberon Waugh was sued in some senior English court having jurisdiction for grievous distress suffered by an actress, or lady actor, on account of an article he had written in the Spectator. He had alleged, ungallantly, though he claimed truly, that the lady had a big bottom. I believe, m'lud, that, expressis verbis, it was "bum". A "bum", if your Lordship pleases, is ..... Ah! Thank you, m'lud. Your Lordship is very kind.

On being sued he pleaded the defence of veritas. Not only was the allegation true, he maintained through I expect learned and hope expensive counsel, but it was manifestly true. We have but, if your Lordship pleases, to look at the bottom, or bum, in question, albeit chastely covered, to see how truly I spoke.

Magna est veritas et praevalet, we read in the Vulgate, but not this time. The Judge was a gentleman of what? Of the old school. Well done! that boy. Quite right, and he awarded heavy damages to the outraged lady. It was, as we say over here, a real bummer. And what could be more base than that?

Pilot's Pal is as always the source of wisdom. If you lose, she says, it will cost you a pot. Right on. She might have added that often when you win, it will still cost you a pot. Ask James McNeil Whistler about that. Well, actually, you can't, because he is dead, but you can look up the award he won, and speculate what it cost him to win it.

It is perennially heartwarming to find enthusiasts digging around for a defence, and basing their thoughts on that. Bless them! What does a defence matter? What good is a defence when the action may last years, you live in British Columbia, and the court is in Nova Scotia?

I can tell you what good it is. It educates the children of lawyers.

Anthony Carn
26th Oct 2002, 21:43
Brilliant stuff -- thanks everyone !

One last question, there's a TV programme in England called "Have I Got News For You" which really slags various people/organisations off to a degree that you'd think they'd always be in court.

They will often finish a statement with the word "allegedly". ( I use it as my signature ) .

Does this protect them in some way from slander claims (and presumably libel, if the scripts are published ) ? :confused:

Kalium Chloride
26th Oct 2002, 22:22

It's one of those myths that using 'allegedly' protects you. It certainly does not.

You have to remember that libel is all about whether your article changes a reader's perception of a person.

Calling someone an 'alleged rapist' is obviously damaging to their reputation. Therefore it is also potentially libellous.