Legal Definition of Defamatory Statement

legal definition of defamatory statement


S j Tubrazy

The essence of a defamatory statement is its tendency to injure the reputation of another person. There is no complete or comprehensive definition of what constitutes a defamatory statement, since the word ‘defamatory’ is nowhere precisely defined. Generally speaking a statement is defamatory of the person of whom it is published if it tends to lower him in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally or if it exposes him to public hatred, contempt or ridicule or if it causes him to be shunned or avoided.

A person’s reputation is not confined to his general character and standing but extends to his trade business or profession, and words will be defamatory if they impute lack of qualification, knowledge, skill, capacity, judgment or efficiency in the conduct of his trade, business or professional activity.

The test of what is defamatory. In deciding whether or not a statement is defamatory, the Court must first consider what meaning the words would convey to the ordinary man.

Having determined the meaning, the test is whether under the circumstances in which the words were published, a reasonable man to whom the publication was made would be likely to understand it in a defamatory sense. Words which tend to diminish the esteem in which a man is held by the criminal classes or by persons out of sympathy with the law will not support an action, for that is not a standard which the Court can recognize.

The fact that the person to whom the words were published did not believe them to be true is irrelevant and does not affect the right of action, although it may affect the question of damages.

Words may have not only a literal meaning but also an inferential meaning which goes beyond the literal meaning but is inherent in them and may depend upon the context in which they were published, the literal meaning and any inferential meaning are known as the natural and ordinary meaning. The words may also have a secondary or extended meaning which depends upon knowledge of special or extrinsic facts. The secondary or extended meaning is known as the innuendo or true or legal innuendo.

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