Cowley v Pulsifer: 1884

(United States – Supreme Court of Massachusetts) The court discussed the advantage nevertheless of having proceedings in public. Holmes J said: ‘The general advantage to the country in having these proceedings made public more than counterbalances the inconveniences to the private persons whose conduct may be the subject of such proceedings.
. . The chief advantage to the country to which we can discern, and that which we understand to be intended by the foregoing passage, is the security which publicity gives for the proper administration of justice.
. . It is desirable that the trial of causes should take place under the public eye, not because the controversies of one citizen with another are of public concern, but because it is of the highest moment that those who administer justice should act under the sense of public responsibility, and that every citizen should be able to satisfy himself with his own eyes as to the mode in which a public duty is performed.’
and ‘If these [the principles of open justice] are not the only grounds upon which fair reports of judicial proceedings are privileged, all will agree that they are not the least important ones. And it is clear that they have no application whatever to the contents of a preliminary written statement of a claim or charge. These do not constitute a proceeding in open court. Knowledge of them throws no light upon the administration of justice. Both form and contents depend wholly on the will of a private individual, who may not be even an officer of the court. It would be carrying privilege farther than we feel prepared to carry it, to say that by the easy means of entitling and filing it in a cause, a sufficient foundation may be laid for scattering any libel broadcast with impunity.’
and . . ‘It may be objected that our reasoning tacitly assumes that papers properly filed in the clerk’s office are not open to the inspection of the public. We do not admit that this is true, or that the reasons for the privilege accorded to the publication of proceedings in open court would apply to the publication of such papers, even if all the world had access to them. But we do not pause to discuss the question, because we are of opinion that such papers are not open to public inspection.’


Holmes J


(1884) 137 Mass 392

Cited by:

CitedFlood v Times Newspapers Ltd SC 21-Mar-2012
The defendant had published an article which was defamatory of the claimant police officer, saying that he was under investigation for alleged corruption. The inquiry later cleared him. The court was now asked whether the paper had Reynolds type . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

International, Defamation

Updated: 15 May 2022; Ref: scu.452427