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· Blagg v. Sturt; Sturt v. Blagg, 10 Q. B. (Ad. & El.) 904, 905.
whether the defendant had sent the letter merely with the honest purpose of aiding in the administration of justice, or from a malicious motive and with a knowledge that the charge was false. No evidence was offered in support of the pleas in justification. Verdict for plaintiff on all the issues.
M. Chambers, in Michaelmas term, 1846,4 moved for a nonsuit, or a new trial, or to arrest the judgment. The Secretary of State has the superintendence of the functionaries who take part in the administration of justice; and any person is entitled and bound to bring before him cases of maladministration in an office connected there with, especially if such person be, as here, an inhabitant of the place in which the office is exercised. The communication itself may be said, from its very nature, to be confidential. The falsehood of the charge does not destroy the protection which the privilege confers. Lake v. King, 1 Saund. 131, 132, Rex v. Baillie, 21 How. St. Tr. 1, 71. Even if there be an exception to this rule, , in the case of a malicious motive, there was in the present case no evidence of malice for the jury. The application to the Home Secretary was regularly made, with a view to an inquiry, * which had accordingly been instituted. It is true that, [* 905] in Robinson v. May, 2 Smith, 3 (7 R. R. 774), it was held that, where there was an “ absence of all ground for the representation,” that was proof of malice: but here only a part of the charge was shown to be false. Further, the publication itself is not such as to justify the innuendo, which attempts to extend the meaning. It was therefore not competent to the jury to affirm the innuendo; and the judgment must be arrested. Solomon v. Lawson, 8 Q. B. 823. See Le Fanu v. Malcomson, 1 H. L. Ca. 637; Gutsole v. Mathers, 1 M. & W. 495, Tyrwh. & Gr. 694.
Cur. adv. vult.
Lord DENMAN, C. J., in the same term (November 16th), delivered the judgment of the Court.
We are of opinion that the defendant was not exempt from responsibility for that which would otherwise be a libel, by reason of its being an application to a competent tribunal for redress; because the Secretary of State has no direct authority in respect of the matter complained of, and was not a competent tribunal to
1 November 2d. Before Lord Denman, C. J., COLERIDGE, Wightman and ERLE, JJ.
No. 11. — Blagg v. Sturt; Sturt v. Blagg, 10 Q. B. (Ad. & El.) 905–907.
receive the application. We are also of opinion that proof of falsehood in a part of the statement is evidence for the jury, to renew the presumption of malice where the occasion of the publication has been evidence to rebut it. We are also of opinion that the libel is capable of the meaning imputed by the innuendo: and, as the jury have found it to be true, and the Judge is not dissatisfied with the verdict, the rule is not granted.
[ 906] Judgment having been entered for the plaintiff in the
Queen's Bench, error was brought in the Exchequer Chamber.
Besides the common assignment of errors, it was specially assigned for error, that the innuendoes in the declaration were bad in law, and improperly attempted to extend the meaning of the alleged defamatory matter beyond its natural and proper meaning and construction, and beyond the meaning which could by law be put thereupon; and that there were no proper or sufficient innuendoes to explain the meaning of the alleged defamatory matter and show that it was actionable, the said matter not being actionable without innuendoes.
The case was argued in this vacation (June 15th).
Peacock, for the plaintiff in error. The letter does not amount to a charge that the plaintiff was an accomplice in the embezzlement: the innuendo, therefore, that he was such accomplice is too large. Neither the allegation that he was intimate with the person accused of that offence, nor that he and his friends were parties to transactions connected with the accommodation bills, can justify the innuendo. It is not stated whether the plaintiff was the party giving or receiving accommodation by means of the bills. Circumstances of suspicion, at most, are indicated. If the plaintiff accommodated Gutteridge, and he committed felony
to take up the bills, that would be no offence in the [* 907] * plaintiff; it is not stated that he even knew how the
proceeds of the felony were applied. The declaration with the innuendo would require a very different plea of justification from that which would suffice if the innuendo were not there. Whether the innuendo extends the meaning of the libel is for the Court to decide, and not for the jury. If a libel is not intelligible without extraneous matter, such matter must be set out in the
No. 11. — Blags v. Sturt; Sturt v. Blagg, 10 Q. B. (Ad. & El.) 907, 908. — Notes.
inducement for the information of the Court. All that the jury have to find, as to the extraneous matter, is whether the libel was published with reference to it: when that is found, it is exclusively for the Court to decide whether the publication, so connected, is a libel.
Hawkins, contra, was not heard.
WILDE, C. J. It is quite clear that the judgment must be affirmed. It is impossible to doubt that the object of the letter was to defame the plaintiff, and also that it would have that effect. (His Lordship then went through the various allegations in the letter, and commented on their libellous character and on their injurious tendency as addressed to a Minister of State, under whose superintendence a prosecution against a public functionary in respect of such matters as were charged in the letter might be instituted.) The defendant now seeks to reason away all the meaning which out of court he intended his letter to convey. No man out of court could read his letter without thinking that if it were true, the plaintiff ought instantly to be removed from his office. Thus far without the innuendo. A question has been raised whether it was competent to the jury to find the truth of the innuendo; and it is said that the matter should not have been left * to the jury. Undoubtedly it is the duty [* 908] of the Judge to say whether a publication is capable of the meaning ascribed to it by an innuendo: but, when the Judge is satisfied of that, it must be left to the jury to say whether the publication has the meaning so ascribed to it. I think this letter was capable of the meaning ascribed to it. With or without the innuendo, in either case, I think the plaintiff entitled to judgment; for the letter in itself discloses a cause of action, and is also such as to justify the finding the truth of the innuendo.
COLTMAN and CRESSWELL, JJ., and PARKE, ALDERSON, ROLFE, and PLATT, BB., concurred.
In Parmiter v. Coupland (1840), 6 M. & W. 105, 9 L. J. Ex. 202, 203, Baron PARKE said: “ For a very long period ever since I have been acquainted with the law, — I have understood the correct practice in cases of libel, as in other cases of a criminal nature, to be for the Judge to give the jury a legal definition of a libel, and then to leave it to them to say whether, in the particular case, the facts necessary to
No. 11. — Blagg v. Sturt ; Sturt v. Blagg. — Notes.
constitute a libel are proved to their satisfaction. And there is no difference in this respect between a libel which is the subject of a criminal prosecution, and one which is the subject of a civil action. . . . Mr. Fox's Libel Act (32 Geo. III. c. 60) is a declaratory Act, and did not in my opinion introduce any new principle; the rule was the same in civil as in criminal cases."
In Cox v. Lee (1869), L. R., 4 Ex. 284, 38 L. J. Ex. 219, 21 L. T. 178, it was held by the Court that a charge of ingratitude for pecuniary assistance made against a person holding an esteemed position as a resident and proprietor of a newspaper in a certain county, was proper to be submitted to the jury for them to determine whether it came within the definition of a libel, and that, although in the alleged libellous publication facts were stated as the ground of the charge which did not warrant the opprobrious language, the publication might still be libellous by raising a doubt whether there are not facts justifying the charge. Therefore, though the charge is coupled with statements tending to explain it, it is still a question for the jury whether the words were used under such circumstances as to make them libellous.
In Hunt v. Goodlake (1873), 43 L. J. C. P. 54, 29 L. T. 472, a libel alleged to have been published in the Times newspaper said that the plaintiff “is not and never was a captain in the Royal Artillery; as has been erroneously described.” The innuendo was that the defendant thereby meant that the plaintiff was an impostor and had falsely and fraudulently represented himself to be a captain in the Royal Artillery. The truth was that the plaintiff had been a paymaster, and had been appointed by the Queen's commission “ to have the honorary rank of a Captain in our Army.” The plaintiff was nonsuited by the judge, and a rule to set aside the verdict was discharged, on the ground that the words of the publication were not capable of the meaning put upon them by the innuendo. KEATING, J., said, “I agree that the question — What is the meaning of the words alleged to be defamatory?
must be left to the jury, when that meaning is a matter of doubt, but some limit must be adopted to this doctrine; the true rule seems to be that if, at the end of the plaintiff's case, the words complained of can be reasonably construed in the sense put upon them by the innuendo, it is for the jury to say whether they are used in that sense; if they cannot be so construed, the judge must nonsuit the plaintiff.” The principal case was approved.
In Mulligan v. Cole (1875), L. R., 10 Q. B. 549, 44 L. J. Q. B. 153, 33 L. T. 12, an advertisement in a newspaper ran as follows: " Walsall Science and Art Institute. The public are respectfully informed that Mr. Mulligan's (meaning the plaintiff's) connection
with the Institute has ceased, and that he is not authorised to receive subscriptions on its behalf, signed Cole & others (the defendants).' The innuendo was that the plaintiff falsely pretended to be authorised to receive subscriptions on behalf of the Institute. It was held that no action lay, for the words were not, to an ordinary reader, capable of conveying the imputation ascribed to them.
In Hart v. Wall (1877), 2 C. P. D. 146, 46 L. J. C. P. 227, 25 W. R. 373, the plaintiffs having advertised that they were about to sing at certain music halls at which they had been engaged to sing in public, and that they had the permission of certain music publishers to sing any morceaux from their musical publications, the defendant wrote to the proprietors of the music halls letters containing the following and similar statements: “ Although I know that it is quite unintentional on the part of the lady advertisers (the plaintiffs), the advertisement, if relied upon in every particular by proprietors engaging them, is calculated to lead such proprietors to incur the penalties under the copyright Act in certain cases, as I hold the power of attorney over the performing rights of certain musical publications belonging to two houses therein named, who only have the copyright vested in them, and a separate and distinct property never held by them.” The innuendo alleged was that the plaintiffs had no right to sing certain songs which they advertised themselves as about to sing at the music halls. The result was that the plaintiffs lost some of the engagements. The plaintiffs were nonsuited by the judge on the ground that the letters were not libellous. A rule to set aside the nonsuit was made absolute on the ground that the meaning of the letters was for the jury and not for the judge. Lord COLERIDGE, C. J., said: “The question we have to consider in determining whether the nonsuit was right is, not whether these letters are capable of an innocent interpretation (as contended by the counsel for the defendant) but whether they are not reasonably capable of a libellous and malicious construction, because, if the letters can reasonably bear a libellous construction, the question is entirely for the jury to say what construction ought to be put upon them."
In Capital and Counties Bank v. Henty & Sons (H. L. 1882), 7 App. Cas. 741, 52 L. J. Q. B. 232, 47 L. T. 662, 31 W. R. 157, Henty & Sons, a firm of brewers, were in the habit of receiving in payment from their customers cheques on various branches of the Capital and Counties Bank, which the bank cashed for the convenience of Henty & Sons at a particular branch. Having had a dispute with the manager of that branch, Henty & Sons sent a printed circular to a large number of the customers of the bank, who knew nothing of the dispute, containing the following statement: “Henty & Sons hereby