Libel and slander

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To triangulate the individual and social interests in reputation and free speech, the common law has generated an unwieldy corpus of technical rules and counterfactual assumptions. This complexity entails enormous cost and opportunities for game-playing by astute, well-resourced litigants. Neither reputation nor free speech is well-served by reform initiatives that focus mainly on amending the substantive law. This paper offers a critical assessment of a proposal that might better address complexity and cost. This comprises the inextricable combination of two initiatives: repeal of the ‘single meaning rule’ which promises to simplify the court’s task, but instead generates complexity in defiance of common sense; and a bar to claims should a publisher correct unintended meanings promptly and prominently. This combination would eliminate the ‘semantic’ dimension of claims; deliver adequate redress for many publication harms; see only intractable disputes reach the court; and leave defamation law more comprehensible to the wider public.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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