Joseph Le Fanu, And Edward Bull v Joseph Malcomson And Others: HL 27 Jun 1848

Though defamatory matter may appear only to apply to a class of individuals, yet if the descriptions in such matter are capable of being, by inuendo, shown to be directly applicable to any one individual of that class, an action may be maintained by such individual in respect of the publication of such matter.
In such a case the innuendo does not extend the sense of the defamatory matter, but merely points out the particular individual to whom matter, in itself defamatory, does in fact apply.
Therefore, after verdict, a declaration which recited that the plaintiff was owner of a factory in Ireland, and charged that the defendant published of him and of the said factory a libel, imputing that ‘in some of the Irish factories (meaning thereby the plaintiffs’ factory) cruelties were practised, though there was no allegation otherwise connecting the libel with the plaintiff, was held good.
A and B may join in an action for a libel containing imputations injurious to a trade carried on by them jointly as partners.
Lord Chancellor Cottenham said: ‘if a party can publish a libel so framed as to describe individuals, though not naming them, and not specifically describing them by any express form of words, but still so describing them that it is known who they are, as the jurors have found it to be here, and if those who must be acquainted with the circumstances connected with the party described may also come to the same conclusion, and may have no doubt that the writer of the libel intended to mean those individuals, it would be opening a very wide door to defamation, if parties suffering all the inconvenience of being libelled were not permitted to have that protection which the law affords.’


Lord Chancellor Cottenham and Lord Campbell


[1848] EngR 663, (1848) 1 HLC 637, (1848) 9 ER 910




England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedKnuppfer v London Express Newspaper Ltd HL 3-Apr-1944
The plaintiff complained that the defendant’s article was defamatory in implying that he was an agent of Hitler. He was representative in Great Britain of a political party of Russian emigres known as Mlado Russ or Young Russia. The total membership . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 18 May 2022; Ref: scu.300213