Rare action that is hard to prove: Keith Mathieson explains the background and pitfalls of the little-used legal process of slander
Tuesday 28 June 1994
The last jury award for slander was pounds 150,000 - reduced to pounds 50,000 on appeal - against Dr Alanah Houston who, in front of patients, had called her male colleague a groper. Lady Foster, wife of Sir Norman Foster, the architect, failed to convince a jury last year that she had been 'slandered by conduct' after a customs officer had escorted her through a concourse at Heathrow in a manner which she said would have meant to everybody that she was being arrested for a serious offence.
The distinction between libel and slander is that a libel must be in permanent form (eg, written or broadcast) whereas slander is transitory - the spoken word, conduct or gestures. The practical difference is that damage is presumed in libel, but has to be proved in slander, though that rule is subject to exceptions for certain kinds of allegation, including, as in the Wraith case, any imputation that someone is suffering from an infectious disease.
Historical accident appears to be responsible for the distinction between libel and slander which is unknown in Scotland and has been widely criticised. In 1975 a committee of experts recommended its abolition. That the distinction still exists may be partly due to fear that removing the requirement to prove actual loss might encourage a flood of 'garden wall' slander actions. That fear is misplaced. Most slander actions never get off the ground because of the difficulty of proving what was said in the first place.
Keith Mathieson is a libel specialist with the London solicitors, Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co.
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 Prince Harry leaving the armed forced to pursue conservation projects in Africa
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
Leonard Nimoy dead: Star Trek Spock actor dies after suffering lung disease
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin, says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...
salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...