Hedley v Barlow and Another: QBD 1865

Public Interest Discussion Can Excuse Defamation

The right of free discussion on a subject of public interest excuses the pubication of defamatory matter, provided it appears to have been published not in that unfair or improper spirit – that is in the spirit of intemperate and inconsiderate imputation, which implies malice in a legal sense – but in the spirit of fair discussion. And the right of free discussion extends to comments in a journal upon sworn evidence given on a subject of public interest, even to the extent of imputing that such evidence is unfounded, or even unfounded or careless, but if it is imputed, apparently without any fair foundation, that it is wilfully, ‘maliciously,’ or ‘recklessly’ false, then there is an excess, which is evidence of what the law deems malice, and which takes away the protection or excuse arising from the exercise of the right of free discussion.

Cockburn CJ
[1865] EngR 23, (1865) 4 F and F 225, (1865) 176 ER 541
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedDee v Telegraph Media Group Ltd QBD 28-Apr-2010
The newspaper sought summary judgment in its defence of the defamation claim. The article labelled the claimant as the world’s worst professional tennis player. The paper said he had no prospect of succeeding once the second article in the same . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.280935