Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018
Parmiter v Coupland and another  6 M & W 105
The claimant was the late mayor of Winchester. A series of libels were published of him in a local newspaper between November 1938 and March 1939, implying that he was corrupt and ignored his duties as mayor and justice of the peace for his borough. The defendants pleaded not guilty.
At trial, the judge directed the jury as to the difference between censures on public and on private person. He said that the character of public officials was public property to an extent and as such, their actions can be criticised more openly than that of private persons. Furthermore, he provided a definition of libel to the jury and then left it to them to decide whether the statements in question were intended to injure the claimant’s character. It was claimed that the jury was misdirected.
In libel cases, the judge is not legally obliged to state to the jury whether the statement complained of is a libel or not – however, he must define what libel is in law and then leave it to the jury to decide whether the statement in question falls into that definition and, incidentally, whether the statement was intended to injure the claimant’s character. Secondly, while there are differences as to what might count as libel against a private or a public person, allegations of corruption will be libellous in either case. Thirdly, libel will be established whenever a statement, intended to injure the reputation of a person by exposing him/her to ridicule, hatred or contempt, is published without justification or lawful excuse.
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