Case Summary: Parmiter v Coupland (1840)

Case Summary 




Parmiter v Coupland and Another [1840] EngR 168; (1840) 6 M & W 105; 151 ER 340




The Hampshire Advertiser newspaper published about the late mayor in the borough of Winchester.

The newspaper imputed ‘partial and corrupt conduct, and ignorance of his duties as mayor and justice of the peace for the borough.’




  1. Whether the trial judge misdirected the jury that there was a distinction between private and public persons and that pubic persons may be commented on more freely. 
  2. Firstly, whether the trial judge misdirected the jury that the definition of libel is whether the publications in question were calculated to be injurious to the character of the plaintiff and secondly, whether the judge misdirected the jury that the jury ought the determine whether the publication was libellous. 


Ratio decidendi


  1. 'There is a difference between publications relating to public and private individuals. Every subject has a right to comment on those acts of public men which concern him as a subject of the realm, if he do not make his commentary a cloak for malice and slander : but any imputation of wicked or corrupt motives is unquestionably libellous...' (Parke, B. with Alderson , B. and Gurney, B. concurred)
  2. The definition of defamation is, ‘A publication, without justification or lawful excuse, which is calculated to injure the reputation of another, by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule.’ (Parke, B. with Alderson , B. and Gurney, B. concurred)
  3. 'But it has been [108] the course for a long time for a Judge, in cases of libel, as in other cases of a criminal nature, first to give a legal definition of the offence, and then to leave it to the jury to say, whether the facts necessary to constitute that offence are proved to their satisfaction; and that, whether the libel *342 is the subject of a criminal prosecution, or civil action.' (Parke, B. with Alderson , B. and Gurney, B. concurred)




The judge did not misdirect the jury on any of the issues.



[Image: Winchester Combined Court Center]