Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Criminal Libel Definition:

A criminal offence; deliberate publication of defamatory lies which the publisher knows to be false.

Malicious libel which constitutes a breach of the peace or seriously or significantly injures the reputation of another person.

Synonymous with defamatory libel. For example, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, in Lucas v Dueck, refers to a prosecution under s. 300 of the Criminal Code (defamatory libel) as “criminal libel”.

Gatley on Libel and Slander refers to "criminal libel", reflecting the practice in England, and defines the common law offence as:

"... the publication of written defamatory words.... The libel must vilify the subject."

Although some jurists take pains to distinguish defamatory libel from criminal libel they are for the most part, synonymous and interchangeable.

Some jurisdictions as expressed in your statutes, case law or law book authors, prefer the term criminal libel because the term defamatory libel is redundant (libel is by definition defamatory), implies that defamatory slander is a crime (it is not) and is not self-distinguishing from the tort of defamation or libel.

Some American states have criminal libel laws. Florida:

“Any person convicted of the publication of a libel shall be guilty of a misdemeanour of the first degree.... “

Criminal libel or defamatory libel are important in developing countries where such laws, taken from British common law with the best of intentions, are used for political control of the media or by private persons who seek to punish those who publish libelous material with the brunt of criminal law. This is not new: Winston Churchill used the device to retaliate against the poet, Alfred Douglas in 1924 when Douglas had libeled Churchill. Douglas served six months in prison for literary license. Speech was not yet free.

The Internet is also giving the law of criminal libel new life. For example, in Ireland, in 2001, Francis Kenny was convicted of criminal libel by posting a profile of a woman on a porn site, without her consent.


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