Speight v Gosnay [1891] 60 LJQB 231

Slander; cause of action; original utterer; repetition

(213 words)


The defendant uttered certain words creating a false (unfavourable) impression regarding the claimant’s virginity when the claimant’s mother was present. The claimant was unmarried at the time. The claimant’s mother repeated the allegation to her and she then repeated it again to her fiancé. The fiancé consequently called off his engagement to the claimant.


There was no evidence that the defendant intended for the slanderous words/allegation to be repeated or that he even authorised its repetition. In fact, it could not even be proven that he knew of the claimant’s engagement.


The Court of Appeal held that the action for slander against the defendant could not be upheld. It stated that where the damage arises from the repetition of the slanderous allegation, the action can only be maintained if the maker of the slanderous allegation authorised or intended its repetition. Alternatively, the action for slander could be upheld if the repetition occurred as a natural consequence of the slander – i.e. if the person in whose presence the slanderous allegation was made was morally obliged to repeat it. The Court considered the case of Parkins v Scott (1862) 1 H&C 153, which states that in a case of unauthorised repetition of slander, it is in fact the repetitor who is liable.