Heath v Humphreys: 21 May 1990

The court considered the circumstances under which malice could be established so as to defeat a claim of qualified privilege. Malice is not to be inferred from the hypothetical untruth of a proposition derived from a misconstruction of a publication. Speaking of Horrocks -v- Lowe: ‘I think that this passage requires some qualification by the addition of a further exceptional case. Since, as Lord Diplock emphasised, the public interest essentially requires protection for freedom of communication honestly exercised, what matters is that the publishers shall believe in the truth of what he intends to say. If, from his viewpoint his remarks are misconstrued, he would be likely to be the first to say ‘I never believed in the truth of that’ or ‘I never considered whether or not that was true’. If such an answer would take him outside the protection of qualified privilege, its purpose would on occasion be wholly undermined. Putting it another way, in such circumstances the defamer cannot be said to be ‘telling deliberate and injurious falsehoods’. At worse, he is doing so unintentionally.’


Lord Donaldson MR


Unreported, May 21 1990


England and Wales


CitedHorrocks v Lowe HL 1974
The plaintiff complained of an alleged slander spoken at a meeting of the Town Council. The council meeting was an occasion attracting qualified privilege. The judge at trial found that the councillor honestly believed that what he had said in the . .

Cited by:

CitedAlexander v Arts Council of Wales CA 9-Apr-2001
In a defamation action, where the judge considered that, taken at their highest, the allegations made by the claimant would be insufficient to establish the claim, he could grant summary judgment for the defence. If the judge considered that a . .
CitedLoveless v Earl; Capital and Counties (Financial Services) Limited CA 4-Nov-1998
When a defendant claimed qualified privilege and the Plaintiff alleged that the words complained of were issued with malice, the defendant will not prevented from reliance on qualified privilege if it can show that the words have an honestly . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 23 July 2022; Ref: scu.194319