Case Summary: Slatyer v Daily Telegraph Newspaper Co Ltd (1908)

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Case Summary: Slatyer v Daily Telegraph Newspaper Co Ltd [1908]


[x] = case page number




Slatyer v Daily Telegraph Newspaper Co Ltd [1908] HCA 22; (1908) 6 CLR 1; 8 SR (NSW) 517; 14 ALR 693






At [1]:

A candidate for election to the House of Representatives was referred to in a newspaper as a “socialistic candidate.” In previous issues of the same newspaper, articles had appeared in which it was stated that the socialistic party were in favour of the nationalization of all industries, to be brought about either by means of a system of taxation which was variously described as a policy of confiscation, a policy of spoliation, a policy of plunder, and the thieving method, or by the purchase by the State of all property at its market value, and electors were urged to ask all socialistic candidates which of these methods they advocated.




The plaintiff is a socialistic candidate and is in favour of confiscation of all property. 




Whether the matter conveys the imputation.


Ratio Decidendi


The following is my compilation of principles and the case extracts which form the principle. 

Principle: The phrase, 'right thinking member of the community' is replaced with 'a man of fair average intelligence'. Note, this section is referring to the test for whether an imputation is in fact defamatory. 

At [5-6] per Griffith C.J. with O'Connor J. Isaacs J. in agreement:

Street J. stated what he conceived to be the true meaning of the decision [1] : “We are not concerned with the construction which might be put upon them by a perverse minded or unreasonable reader, but what we have to consider is whether any right minded reader of average intelligence could reasonably place upon the words the interpretation which the plaintiff has chosen to put upon them. I do not think that such a reader would or could so interpret them, and in my opinion the plaintiff has altogether failed to show that the words complained of had any libellous tendency, or that they were in any degree calculated to injure his character or reputation in the opinion of right thinking members of the community.” The only criticism that I have to make upon that passage, and indeed upon the whole of the judgment, which, I think, accurately expresses the law and the proper rule to be applied to the case, is as to the use of the phrase “right thinking” which has unfortunately come to have an ambiguous meaning. But, read in the light of the context, it obviously means a man of fair average intelligence.


Obiter Dictum


Note, Griffith C.J. added the following comment at the end of the case. The other judges, O'Connor J. and Isaacs J., only specified that they concurred with Griffith C.J.'s pervious judgement, not the following comment. Therefore, this comment does not have the support of the majority and is rendered obiter dictum.

Principle: When relying on a true innuendo, the plaintiff must call witnesses to prove that they understood the matter and imputations. 

At [9] per Griffith C.J.:

I only wish to add this, to which I thought that possibly one of my learned brothers would have referred. In this case no evidence was given on behalf of the plaintiff by any independent witness of what he understood by the articles in question. In point of fact some witness should have been called for the purpose of proving that he had read the article and taken it to refer to the plaintiff in the worst sense, if that was the meaning upon which the plaintiff relied. I have noticed that in many cases of defamation of late the plaintiff has been content with his own evidence as to what was the meaning of the article complained of, without calling any evidence of an independent person.




The matter was held not be capable of conveying the imputation. Appeal dismissed with costs.




[Image: Portrait of Sir Sameul Griffith]


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