Stocker v Stocker: SC 3 Apr 2019

The parties had been married and divorced. Mrs S told M S’s new partner on Facebook that he had tried to strangle her and made other allegations. Mrs S now appealed from a finding that she had defamed him. Lord Kerr restated the approach to meaning in defamation actions: ‘Therein lies the danger of the use of dictionary definitions to provide a guide to the meaning of an alleged defamatory statement. That meaning is to be determined according to how it would be understood by the ordinary reasonable reader. It is not fixed by technical, linguistically precise dictionary definitions, divorced from the context in which the statement was made.’ It is the ‘court’s duty to step aside from a lawyerly analysis’.
There is an artificiality in choosing a single meaning from a series of words that individual listeners or readers may understand in different ways, but this approach is well-established and it provides a practicable, workable solution.
‘the primary role of the court is to focus on how the ordinary reasonable reader would construe the words. And this highlights the court’s duty to step aside from a lawyerly analysis and to inhabit the world of the typical reader of a Facebook post. To fulfil that obligation, the court should be particularly conscious of the context in which the statement was made . .’


Lord Reed, Deputy President, Lord Kerr, Lady Black, Lord Briggs, Lord Kitchin


[2019] UKSC 17, [2019] WLR(D) 214, [2019] 3 All ER 647, [2019] EMLR 18, [2019] 2 WLR 1033, UKSC 2018/0045


Bailii, WLRD, SC, SC Summary, SC Summary Video, SC 2019 01 24 am Videa, SC 2019 01 24 pm Video


England and Wales


See AlsoStocker v Stocker CA 24-Mar-2015
Application for leave to appeal . .
See AlsoStocker v Stocker QBD 10-Jun-2015
The claimant alleged defamation by his former wife in a post on facebook. The posting and associatedeEmails were said falsely to have accused him of serious abuse, and that the accusations had undermined his relationship with his new partner.
See AlsoStocker v Stocker QBD 29-Jan-2016
Application on pre-trial review . .
Appeal fromStocker v Stocker CA 12-Feb-2018
Defamation proceedings after divorce.
Sharp LJ said this about the use of dictionaries as a means of deciding the meaning to be given to a statement alleged to be defamatory: ‘The use of dictionaries does not form part of the process of . .
CitedOriental Daily Publisher Ltd v Ming Pao Holdings Ltd 2013
(Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal) Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury said 138 that the criticism of the single meaning rule’s artificiality and (implicitly) its irrationality was misplaced. He suggested that the identification of a single meaning to be . .
CitedNevill (Lord William) v Fine Art and General Insurance Company HL 8-Dec-1896
The appellant acted for some time as agent to an insurance company at his own offices. After some correspondence as to a change of terms upon which the parties could not agree, the company’s secretary sent to persons who insured through the . .
CitedMonir v Wood QBD 19-Dec-2018
The court considered an online allegation of involvement in child sex abuse which was described as ‘life changing’ and having transformed the life of the claimant and his family and left him a recluse. Notwithstanding the ‘fairly limited . .
CitedSlim v Daily Telegraph Ltd CA 1968
Courts to Settle upon a single meaning if disputed
The ‘single meaning’ rule adopted in the law of defamation is in one sense highly artificial, given the range of meanings the impugned words sometimes bear. The law of defamation ‘has passed beyond redemption by the courts’. Where in a libel action . .
CitedBukovsky v Crown Prosecution Service CA 13-Oct-2017
Appeal from strike out of defamation claim, based upon press release by the respondent in a charging announcement. The claim had been struck out on the basis that the words complained of did not have the defamatory meaning alleged.
Held: . .
CitedSkuse v Granada Television CA 30-Mar-1993
The claimant complained that the defendant had said in a television programme that he had failed to act properly when presenting his expert forensic evidence in court in the trial of the Birmingham Six.
Held: The court should give to the . .
CitedGillick v Brook Advisory Centres and Another CA 23-Jul-2001
The claimant appealed after closing her action for an alleged defamation by the respondents in a leaflet published by them. She challenged an interim decision by the judge as to the meaning of the words complained of.
Held: The leaflet made . .
CitedMonroe v Hopkins QBD 28-Mar-2017
Ruling – Permission to Appeal – The defendant sought leave to appeal against the award of 24,000 pounds in damages for two teweets found to have been defamatory of the claimant.
Warby J said this about tweets posted on Twitter: ‘The most . .
CitedElliott v Rufus CA 20-Feb-2015
The parties were former footballers and business partners they fell out and the defendant was said to have sent and extremely offensive text message. After a copy was published, the defendant published a press release which the claimant now said was . .
CitedHousen v Nikolaisen 28-Mar-2002
Supreme Court of Canada – Torts – Motor vehicles – Highways – Negligence – Liability of rural municipality for failing to post warning signs on local access road — Passenger sustaining injuries in motor vehicle accident on rural road — Trial judge . .
CitedJeynes v News Magazines Ltd and Another CA 31-Jan-2008
Whether Statement defamatory at common law
The claimant appealed against a striking out of her claim for defamation on finding that the words did not have the defamatory meaning complained of, namely that she was transgendered or transsexual.
Held: The appeal failed.
Sir Anthony . .
CitedMcAlpine v Bercow QBD 2014
The claimant alleged defamation by the defendant in making a false allegation against him.
Held: The second Jeynes principle does not mean that the court must always choose the least defamatory meaning available. Where there are two possible . .
CitedMcGraddie v McGraddie and Another (Scotland) SC 31-Jul-2013
The parties were father and son, living at first in the US. On the son’s wife becoming seriously ill, the son returned to Scotland. The father advanced a substantal sum for the purchase of a property to live in, but the son put the properties in his . .
CitedSmith v ADVFN Plc and others QBD 25-Jul-2008
The claimant had brought multiple actions in defamation against anonymous posters on an online forum. The claimant sought to lift the stay which had been imposed because of the number of actions. The claimant had not yet paid outstanding costs . .
CitedCruddas v Calvert and Others CA 21-Jun-2013
The claimant sought damages alleging both defamation and malicious falsehood. The parties appealed against the ruling that in a malicious falsehood claim, the court would accept mutiple meanings of the words used. . .
CitedWaterson v Lloyd MP and Another CA 28-Feb-2013
The former MP for Eastbourne had brought an action for defamation against the appellant, the current MP and his agent in respect of election materials used by them. The appellants had relied on the defence of fair comment, and now appealed against . .
CitedCammish v Hughes CA 12-Dec-2012
Arden LJ summarised the law as regard abuse of process claims in defamation cases, saying that while the court must provide a remedy in a case that requires one, the process of the court should not be used in a case where the need has gone away. . .

Cited by:

CitedZC v Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust QBD 26-Jul-2019
Defamation/privacy claims against doctors failed
The claimant, seeking damages for alleged defamation, now asked for the case to be anonymised.
Held: The conditions for anonymisation were not met. The anonymity would be retained temporarily until any time for appeal had passed.
As to . .
CitedTurley v Unite The Union and Another QBD 19-Dec-2019
Defamation of Labour MP by Unite and Blogger
The claimant now a former MP had alleged that a posting on a website supported by the first defendant was false and defamatory. The posting suggested that the claimant had acted dishonestly in applying online for a category of membership of the . .
CitedWare v Wimborne-Idrissi and Others QBD 13-Aug-2021
Judgment after a trial of preliminary issues relating to the meaning of the words complained of in a claim for libel. . .
CitedSimon and Others v Lyder and Another PC 29-Jul-2019
(Trinidad and Tobago) The Board was asked as to the well-known conundrum in the common law of defamation, namely the extent to which (if at all) two or more different statements made upon different occasions by the same defendant may be aggregated . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 24 April 2022; Ref: scu.635238