These three offences are nearly related—in fact, the latter is practically a generic name for the other two, implying the defamation or destroying of the good name of another, or the mere aspersion thereof. These offences come under the heading of Criminal Torts.
Slander and Libel.
Slander is a defamatory verbal statement: it is not a criminal offence. To constitute an actionable libel or slander there must be publication, that is to say, the defamatory statement must be made to a third party, or to two or more persons. It is not actionable to write and send an abusive letter to anyone, if enclosed in an envelope properly fastened; but the same words written on a postcard, and sent by post, may be actionable, as others may have an opportunity of reading the words.
A libel is a defamatory statement in writing, or printed. A picture may be a libel, or a report in a newspaper.
Criminal proceedings may be taken for libels calculated to cause a breach of the peace and other gross or malicious libels, such as alleging a criminal offence, although such allegations have not been published to a third party—also libels alleging the incapacity of anyone with regard to his profession, or trade, or suggesting that he has an infectious disease. The ground of such criminal proceedings is that the libel affects the public welfare. It is no defence to a criminal prosecution for libel to show that the words complained of were true, unless it is also shown that they were written for the benefit of the public.
As to newspapers, it has been enacted that fair and accurate reports of cases publicly heard in any court, if published contemporaneously, do not constitute a libel. Before instituting criminal proceedings against the proprietor of a newspaper, leave must be obtained from a judge of the High Court.