"Brutus is an honorable man" is not a defamatory statement on its face. That, I believe, would satisfy U.S. law.

But the quote, from Shakespeare's work Julius Caesar, was actually an ironic way of implying that Brutus is not an honorable man.

English libel law is more favorable to plaintiffs than is U.S. law. So has anyone gotten into trouble in the U.K. for making a sarcastic comment that implied the opposite of what was nominally being said?

Here's how it might play out in practice:

"Jane Doe goes out to bars most nights. She is a chaste, virtuous woman.
Jane Doe is seen with a different man most nights. She is a chaste, virtuous woman.
Jane Doe hangs out with the "Wild Girls." They are chaste, virtuous women. So are they all."

Would a defendant have to prove that the underlying assertions were true to have a solid defense? Or is the statement, "she is a chaste, virtuous woman" be sufficiently non-libelous by itself?

1 Answer 1


You should look at McAlpine v Bercow. Bercow had made what she thought was a fairly benign tweet, but Lord McAlpine brought proceedings for libel against her. McAlpine won. Afterward, Bercow issued this statement:

“Today’s ruling should be seen as a warning to all social media users. Things can be held to be seriously defamatory, even when you do not intend them to be defamatory and do not make any express accusation. On this, I have learned my own lesson the hard way”.

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    This is libel on what I call a disguised identity issue. That is, someone made a serious charge (of pedophilia), tried to disguise the plaintiff, and failed to do so. My example was the opposite: I make clear that Jane Doe is the alleged, and am disguising the "charge" by saying "she is a chaste, virtuous woman."
    – Libra
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 16:15

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