Huth v Huth [1915] 3 KB 32


No publication of libel where butler opened unclosed letter.

Facts

The defendant, Captain Huth, sent an allegedly defamatory letter in an unclosed envelope through the post to his four children. The letter contained an implication that the children were illegitimate. The letter was taken out of the envelope and read by a butler in breach of his duties and out of curiosity. At trial, the claim was dismissed on the basis that there was no evidence of publication of the libellous information.

Issue

On appeal, counsel for the appellants contended that the defendant knew that the document was likely to be taken out of the envelope and read and he must therefore be responsible for it. The only obligation on the plaintiffs was to show that the words are susceptible to defamatory meaning. The respondent argued that there had never been a successful libel claim where the publication had been sent in an envelope. This should be contrasted with a postcard or telegram where there is a reasonable inference that the matter would be published.

Held

The Court of Appeal was of the view that it was not right to treat a letter in an “ungummed” envelope with a halfpenny stamp as though it were an open letter. Such a letter required some act by a person before they could be read and the Court could not presume that such letters would be opened in the ordinary course of business. Therefore, the defendant could not be taken to have known that the letter would have been taken out of the envelope and there was accordingly no evidence of publication of the libel in the case.

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