Hulton and Co v Jones: HL 6 Dec 1909

The defendant newspaper published an article describing the attendance at a motor race at Dieppe. It described the antics, intending to refer to a fictitious person, of one Artemus Jones, and said of him that he was ‘with a woman who is not his wife, who must be, you know – the other thing!’ It added: ‘Really, is it not surprising how certain of our fellow-countrymen behave when they come abroad? Who would suppose, by his goings on, that he was a churchwarden at Peckham?’ The real Artemus Jones was not, of course, a churchwarden at Peckham or anywhere else. He was a barrister on the North Wales Circuit.
Held: His claim in defamation succeeded.
The meaning of the words intended by the publisher or the absence of any intention to harm the plaintiff is irrelevant to the inquiry as to their meaning to a reader: ‘A person charged with libel cannot defend himself by showing that he intended in his own breast not to defame, or that he intended not to defame the plaintiff, if in fact he did both.’ The defendants remedy ‘is to abstain from defamatory words.’
Lord Loreburn LC said: ‘A person charged with libel cannot defend himself by shewing that he intended in his own breast not to defame, or that he intended not to defame the plaintiff, if in fact he did both. He has none the less imputed something disgraceful and has none the less injured the plaintiff. A man in good faith may publish a libel believing it to be true, and it may be found by the jury that he acted in good faith believing it to be true, and reasonably believing it to be true, but that in fact the statement was false. Under those circumstances he has no defence to the action, however excellent his intention. If the intention of the writer be immaterial in considering whether the matter written is defamatory, I do not see why it need be relevant in considering whether it is defamatory of the plaintiff. The writing, according to the old form, must be malicious, and it must be of and concerning the plaintiff. Just as the defendant could not excuse himself from malice by proving that he wrote it in the most benevolent spirit, so he cannot shew that the libel was not of and concerning the plaintiff by proving that he never heard of the plaintiff.’
The test was not whether the defendant intended to refer to the plaintiff but whether the words published were understood by reasonable people who knew the plaintiff to refer to him. Defamation is a tort of strict liability and does not depend upon the intention of the publisher.
A witness may be called to testify that they understood, from reading the libel in the light of the facts and circumstances narrated and described, and their acquaintance with, and knowledge of, the plaintiff, that he was the person referred to.
Lord Chancellor (Loreburn), Lords Atkinson, Gorell, and Shaw
[1909] 2 KB 444, 26 TLR 128, [1910] AC 20, [1908-10] All ER 29, [1909] UKHL 591, 47 SLR 591
England and Wales
CitedEmmens v Pottle CA 1885
A subordinate distributor, here a vendor of newspapers, can plead the common law defence to defamation, of innocent dissemination.
Held: The vendor was prima facie liable, and therefore had to demonstrate the defence to avoid liability. He . .
Appeal fromJones v E Hulton and Co CA 26-May-1909
The defendants, who were the proprietors and publishers of a newspaper, published in an article in their paper defamatory statements of a named person believed by the writer of the article and by the defendants to be a fictitious personage with an . .

Cited by:
CitedThe Financial Conduct Authority v Macris CA 19-May-2015
Appeal by the Authority against a decision by the Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery Chamber) deciding, as a preliminary issue determined in accordance with Rule 5(3)(e) of the Tribunal Procedure (Upper Tribunal) Rules 2008, that the respondent to . .
CitedAngiolini v Green SCS 19-Dec-2013
A procedure roll at the instance of the pursuer in terms of which the court was moved to sustain the pursuer’s first plea-in-law and to grant interdict in terms of the fourth conclusion of the summons. . .
CitedIrvine v Sunday Newspapers Ltd QBNI 6-Dec-2013
The plaintiff has sued the defendant for defamation arising out of an article published in the Sunday World on the 28 October 2012 under the heading ‘Fury over UVF’s Nice Little Board’s Earner ‘. . .
CitedBaturina v Times Newspapers Ltd CA 23-Mar-2011
The claimant appealed against directions given in her defamation action against the defendant. It had been said that she owned a house, and the defendant said that this was not defamatory. The claimant said that as the wife of the Mayor of Moscow . .
CitedCassell and Co Ltd v Broome and Another HL 23-Feb-1972
Exemplary Damages Award in Defamation
The plaintiff had been awarded damages for defamation. The defendants pleaded justification. Before the trial the plaintiff gave notice that he wanted additional, exemplary, damages. The trial judge said that such a claim had to have been pleaded. . .
CitedO’Shea v MGN Ltd and Free4Internet Net Limited QBD 4-May-2001
The defendant newspaper published a lawful advertisement for an adult internet service featuring, with her agreement, a photograph of a young woman, who very closely resembled the claimant.
Held: The claim in defamation failed. Morland J . .
CitedDow Jones and Co Inc v Jameel CA 3-Feb-2005
Presumption of Damage in Defamation is rebuttable
The defendant complained that the presumption in English law that the victim of a libel had suffered damage was incompatible with his right to a fair trial. They said the statements complained of were repetitions of statements made by US . .
CitedBaturina v Times Newspapers Ltd QBD 31-Mar-2010
The claimant sought damages in defamation in respect of an article published by the defendant newspaper. She was the wife of the Mayor of Moscow, and was required to disclose on a public list assets held by her. The defendant said that she owned a . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 29 September 2021; Ref: scu.620597