LIBEL (from the Latin libeling,' a little book) is a malicious defamation, expressed either in writing, or by signs, pictures, &c., tending either to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or the reputation of one who is alive, and there by exposing him to public hatred, con tempt, or ridicule. (Hawkins„ P. C.) This species of Defamation is usually termed written scandal, and from the con siderations that the offence is committed upon greater deliberation than the mere utterance of words, which are frequently employed hastily and without thought, and that the effect of a writing continues longer and is propagated farther and wider than verbal defamation, it is gene rally treated as a more serious mode of defamation than Slander. [SLANDER.] Whatever written words tend to render Is man ridiculous or to lower him in the estimation of the world amount to a li bel ; although the very same expressions, if spoken, would not have been slander or defamation in the legal sense of those words. To complete the offence, publica tion is necessary, that is, the communica tion of the libel to some person, either the person himself who is libelled or any other. The mere writing of defamatory matter without publication is not an of fence punishable by law ; bat if a libel in a man's handwriting is found, the proof is thrown upon him to show that he did not also publish it.
There are two modes in which libellers may be punished, by indictment or cri minal information and by action.
Indictment or criminal information is for the public offence (as it is termed), for every libel has a tendency to a breach of the peace by provoking the person li belled; the civil action, which is on the case, is to recover damages by the party for the injury caused to him by the libel.
On the criminal prosecution it was till recently wholly immaterial whether the libel were true or false, inasmuch as it equally tended to a breach of the peace, and the provocation, not the falsehood, was the thing to be punished; and there fore the defendant on an indictment for publishing a libel was not allowed to al lege the truth of it by way of justification.
But in a civil action the libel must appear to be false as well as scandalous, for the defendant may justify the truth of the facts, and show that the plaintiff has re ceived no injury. It is true that in one sense the person may have received great injury, that is, loss of character and profit, by the publication of the libel ; and there fore the word injury must here be taken in the proper sense of injury, as explained in DAMAGE.
But although the truth of a libel was no justification in a criminal prosecution, yet it was so far considered an extenuation of the offence, that the Court of King's Bench would not grant a criminal infor mation unless the prosecutor by affidavit distinctly and clearly denied the truth of the matters imputed to him, except in those cases where the prosecutor resided abroad, or where the imputations were so general and indefinite that they could not be ex pressly contradicted, or where the libel was a charge against the prosecutor for language held by him in parliament.
A fair report of judicial proceedings does not amount to a libel, but a publica tion of ex-parte proceedings before a magistrate may be punished as such.
A petition, containing scandalous mat ter, presented to parliament or to a com mittee of either House, and legal proceed tugs of any kind, however scandalous the words used may be, do not amount to a libel. But if the petition were delivered to any one not being a member of parlia ment, or the legal proceedings were com menced in a court not having jurisdiction of the cause, they would not be privileged. Confidential communication reasonably called for by the occasion, as charges made by a master in giving the character of his servant to a party inquiring after it, or a warning by a person to another with whom he is connected in business as to the credit or character of a third party about to deal with him, are considered as privileged communications, and are not deemed to be libels unless malice be proved, or the circumstances be such that malice may be inferred by the jury.