Jones v Jones and another [1916] 2 AC 481

Slander; moral misconduct; cause of action; absence of special damage

(306 words)

Facts

The claimant was a teacher and headmaster of a school. The female defendant (the wife of the male defendant) falsely and maliciously said words imputing that claimant had committed adultery with a married woman who was employed by the school cleaner.

Issue

The defendants tried to justify their allegation by saying that it did not relate to the claimant in his profession as teacher or headmaster, and so their words were not actionable without proof of special damage. As no special damage was alleged, the case could not stand. The jury was left to decide whether the defendants’ words imputed moral misconduct by the claimant, whether they were said in a way to endanger his professional position and whether they imputed his unfitness for office. The jury answered all questions in the affirmative. The Court of Appeal later reversed the decision, arguing that words implying immoral conduct – even when said of a man in public office – were not actionable without special damage unless the words related to his conduct in his office or profession.

Held

Affirming the Court of Appeal’s decision, the House of Lords repeated that slander would not be established by words imputing immoral conduct to a headmaster, unless either special damages was proven or the words were spoken of him in the way of his calling. Secondly, defamation is actionable whenever damage is proved. If it is not, the law would infer the necessary damage where the words are written/printed, where the words spoken impute a serious crime, where they impute specific diseases or where the words imply the claimant’s unfitness for his office. Slander itself is actionable upon proof of special damage, or, if facts are such that the law presumes damages, or, finally, if the case is to be considered within the meaning of the Slander of Women Act 1891.