Citation.  A.C. 20
Brief Fact Summary.
The defendant newspaper ran an article saying negative things about a fictitious Artemus Jones. The plaintiff, Thomas Artemus Jones, sued for defamation, despite acknowledging that the article was not meant to refer to him.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The fact that a defendant did not intend to defame a plaintiff is not a defense when an injury has occurred as a result of the false statement.
The defendant newspaper published an article written by its Paris correspondent that alleged that a man named Artemus Jones was a church warden from Peckham who was seen with a woman other than his wife. The plaintiff, named Thomas Artemus Jones, was in fact not a church warden and not from Peckham—he was a lawyer from North Wales who used to contribute articles to the defendant newspaper. Both parties accept as true that the defendant newspaper was using the name Artemus Jones in a fictitious manner and was not intentionally referring to the plaintiff. The plaintiff produced witnesses who read the article and thought that it referred to the plaintiff.
Is the defendant liable for libel even though it was not referring to the plaintiff in the article?
Yes. The lower court judgement is affirmed.
The tort of libel consists of using language which others knowing the circumstances would reasonably think to be defamatory of the person injured by it. The fact that the defendant did not intend to defame the plaintiff is not an adequate defense. Regardless of intent, the defendant’s actions caused injury to the plaintiff. For example, a false statement can still be libelous even if the person who wrote it believed it to be true.