The plaintiff claimed in defamation. The defence was that the words did not refer to the plaintiff and could not be understood to refer to him.
Held: The question as to what meaning words are capable of bearing has been described as a question of law, but only in the sense that the decision thereon is reserved to the judge rather than to the jury: “It is not a question of law in the true sense.”
The ordinary reasonable reader is a layman, not a lawyer, and his capacity for implication is much greater than that of the lawyer.
Lord Morris said: “The question for the Judge at the end of the plaintiff’s case was whether there was evidence upon which the jury could (not would) decide in favour of the plaintiff. That in turn raised the question whether the jury could decide that some readers (having knowledge of certain circumstances) would reasonably understand the words as referring to the plaintiff. If no reasonable reader could have understood the words as referring to the plaintiff, then there would be nothing to be left to the jury.”
Lord Reid said that “some people may think that the law has gone too far” in holding a publisher liable for a reference innuendo, if the statement concerned “applies to someone the publisher has never heard of.”
Judges: Lord Reid, Lord Morris
References:  1 WLR 1239,  2 All ER 1156
- Hough -v- London Express, CA, Approved, ( 2 KB 507)
- Knuppfer -v- London Express Newspaper Ltd, HL, Cited, (Bailii,  UKHL 1,  AC 196,  AC 116)
- Patrick Paul Geenty -v- Channel Four Television Corporation and David Jessel, CA, Cited, (Times 11-Feb-98, Bailii,  EWCA Civ 10,  EMLR 524)
- Dow Jones & Co Inc -v- Jameel, CA, Cited, (Bailii,  EWCA Civ 75, Times 14-Feb-05,  EMLR 16,  QB 946,  2 WLR 1614,  EMLR 353)
- Baturina -v- Times Newspapers Ltd, CA, Cited, (Bailii,  EWCA Civ 308,  1 WLR 1526)
- Tilbrook -v- Parr, QBD, Cited, (Bailii,  EWHC 1946 (QB))
- Elliott -v- Rufus, CA, Cited, (Bailii,  EWCA Civ 121)