Clause 5. — (Justification.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Defamation (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 1952.

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Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , City of York 12:00 am, 27th June 1952

Everyone is agreed that accusing someone of obtaining goods by false pretences is a serious accusation and whatever that was included with under this Clause it seems to me remarkably unlikely that a British jury would take any other view.

May I present my feeling and impression about this? If there is one thing which infuriates the House more than anything else it is talking Latin to them, but I say that this is an example of the well-known principle of de minimis. I had better translate for the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he and I were at the same educational establishment. If I am right in the view that this is de minimis I do not believe that the Clause would deprive the potential plaintiff of anything of which one would mind depriving him.

I hope that that is right. If the law is not to be used as an instrument for obtaining remedies for trifles, worthless things, in my view all this Clause is securing is that end. No one is entitled, I believe, to obtain any sort of damages, even nominal or contemptuous damages —I do not want to go over the ground about costs—if it is really true to say of his complaint that it is de minimis, a worthless thing.

I believe that the real result of the final words of the Clause is to deprive the plaintiff only if the matter of his complaint is in respect of something of which it is true to say de minimis and on that basis I do not believe that some of the fears of the right hon. Gentleman are well founded.