‘A Man of Bad Character Has Not so Much to Lose’: Truth as a Defence in the South African Law of Defamation
South African Law Journal, Vol. 128, pp. 452-78, 2011
31 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2011 Last revised: 14 Feb 2014
Date Written: November 22, 2011
This paper examines, from a historical and comparative perspective, the role of truth in the South African law of defamation. In order to understand to what extent the law of South Africa might represent a mixture of civilian and common-law thinking, it first sets out the viewpoint of, on the one hand, Roman and Roman-Dutch law and, on the other hand, English law. Against this background, the dominant position of South African law appears avowedly civilian, a stand explained by the fact that the South African law of defamation really is a law of verbal insults, as in Rome, rather than a law of injuries to deserved reputation, as in England. However, an interesting dissident strand in favor of the sufficiency of truth can be seen to exist in the background, which is explored. This dissenting strand is certainly English in substance, but this does not entail that it has English roots.
Keywords: defamation, verbal injuries, truth, veritas, public benefit, South African law, actio iniuriarum
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