Defamatory libel

For the tort of libel, see Defamation.

Defamatory libel was originally an offence under the common law of England. It has been established in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. It was or is a form of criminal libel, a term with which it is synonymous.[1]

England and Wales and Northern Ireland

The common law offence of defamatory libel was abolished[2] for England and Wales and Northern Ireland on 12 January 2010.

Section 4 of the Libel Act 1843 which created an aggravated statutory offence was also repealed.


See the following cases:


This originally vested in the Court of Star Chamber. When that court was abolished, it was transferred to the Court of King's Bench.

Publication in a permanent form

See section 4(1) of the Theatres Act 1968 and section 166(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1990.

Restriction on institution of proceedings

See section 8 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888 (replacing section 3 of the Newspaper and Libel Registration Act 1881) and section 8 of the Theatres Act 1968.


See sections 6 and 7 of the Libel Act 1843 and sections 3 and 4 of the Law of Libel Amendment Act 1888.

Functions of judge and jury

See the Libel Act 1792.

Committal proceedings - Power of magistrates to dismiss charge

See section 4 of the Newspaper and Libel Registration Act 1881.

Power of magistrates to try newspaper libel summarily with the consent of the accused

See section 5 of the Newspaper Libel and Registration Act 1881. That section was repealed by sections 17 and 65(5) of, and Schedule 13 to, the Criminal Law Act 1977.


See sections 4 and 5 of the Libel Act 1843

Proposal to amend the law

In 1985, the Law Commission recommended that the offence of defamatory libel should be abolished and replaced with a new statutory offence of "criminal defamation".[3] The recommendation that a new statutory offence be created has not been implemented.

See also


  1. Halsbury's Laws of England, 2006 Reissue
  2. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009, section 73(b)
  3. The Law Commission, Criminal Libel, Working Paper No 84, 15 January 1982

External links

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