The Capital and Counties Bank Limited v George Henty and Sons: HL 1882

The defendant wrote to their customers saying ‘Henty and Sons hereby give notice that they will not receive in payment cheques drawn on any of the branches of the Capital and Counties Bank.’ The contents of the circular became known and there was a run on the bank. The bank claimed they had been defamed.
Held: The plaintiff’s appeal failed. In their natural meaning the words were not capable in law of being defamatory. Lord Selborne LC said: ‘The test, according to the authorities, is, whether under the circumstances in which the writing was published, reasonable men, to whom the publication was made, would be likely to understand it in a libellous sense.’
It was held that there was no case to go to the jury. Lord Blackburn said: ‘1. The plaintiffs are bankers, and the defendants are brewers. 2. The defendants falsely and maliciously wrote and published of the plaintiffs the letter following: ‘Messrs. Henty and Sons hereby give notice that they will not receive in payment cheques drawn on any of the branches of the Capital and Counties Bank (late the Hampshire and North Wilts). Westgate, Chichester, 2nd December, 1878.’ Meaning thereby that the plaintiffs were not to be relied upon to meet the cheques drawn on them, and that their position was such that they were not to be trusted to cash the cheques of their customers.’ and
‘In construing the words to see whether they are a libel, the Court is, where nothing is alleged to give them an extended sense, to put that meaning on them which the words would be understood by ordinary persons to bear, and say whether the words so understood are calculated to convey an injurious imputation. The question is not whether the defendant intended to convey that imputation; for if he, without excuse or justification, did what he knew or ought to have known was calculated to injure the plaintiff, he must (at least civilly) be responsible for the consequences, though his object might have been to injure another person than the plaintiff, or though he may have written in levity only. As was said in the opinion of the judges delivered in the House of Lords during the discussion of Fox’s Bill, I think quite justly, no one can cast about firebrands and death, and then escape from being responsible by saying he was in sport. ‘ Applying the principle to the facts: ‘There can be no doubt that the defendants were not required to take cheques drawn on this bank . . and had a right to refuse to do so. No reason was needed to justify such a refusal . . there are so many reasons why a person may refuse to take on account the cheques drawn on a particular bank, that . . the Court could not say that the letter, which in terms goes no further than merely to state the fact, was libellous, as tending to impute a doubt of the credit of the bank. No doubt some people might guess that the refusal was on that ground, but . . it is unreasonable that when there are a number of good interpretations, the only bad one should be seized upon to give a defamatory sense to the document. I do not think it libellous by itself to state the fact.’

Lord Selborne LC, Lord Blackburn
(1882) 7 App Cas 741
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedRussell v Stubbs Limited HL 1913
The plaintiff said that the defendants, publishers of a trade magazine providing inter alia credit references, had slandered it. The defendants appealed against an order requiring it to provide details of others to whom the slander had been . .
CitedMccann v Scottish Media Newspapers Ltd SCS 18-Feb-1999
Three articles which appeared in one edition of a newspaper had to be read together and treated as ‘constituting a whole’ for the purposes of determining meaning, where the first ended with a cross-reference to the second, and the second ended with . .
CitedAjinomoto Sweeteners Europe Sas v Asda Stores Ltd QBD 15-Jul-2009
The claimant said that the defendant’s characterisation of its own products as ‘Good for You’ by reference to a description saying that it did not include the claimant’s product as a component, was a malicious falsehood. The defendant sold other . .
CitedBerkoff v Burchill and and Times Newspapers Limited CA 31-Jul-1996
The plaintiff actor said that an article by the defendant labelling him ugly was defamatory. The defendant denied that the words were defamatory.
Held: It is for the jury to decide in what context the words complained of were used and whether . .
CitedRhodes v OPO and Another SC 20-May-2015
The mother sought to prevent a father from publishing a book about her child’s life. It was to contain passages she said may cause psychological harm to the 12 year old son. Mother and son lived in the USA and the family court here had no . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.236346