Truth and Truthfulness in the Law of Defamation


Chancellor Day Hall NCDH 202, 3644 rue Peel, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

The Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law is inaugurating its new series of Civil Law Workshops, under the theme « Les apparences en droit civil », with a talk by Eric Descheemaeker (bio) (University of Edinburgh).


This paper provides a comparative overview of two related, but analytically distinct, issues in the law of defamation.The first is whether the true character of a defamatory statement relieves the defendant from liability. On this issue, the civilian and common-law traditions have historically settled on two markedly different stances, the latter accepting the sufficiency of truth simpliciter while the former never did. Some of the reasons for this distinction are explored. Different is the issue of truthfulness, in the sense of belief in truth. Does it, and should it matter, that a defendant believed that what they said was true albeit (prima facie) defamatory? Should we distinguish on the basis of the ‘quality’ of the belief?

This paper argues that reasonable truthfulness ought to be recognised as a defence in the law of defamation. De lege lata, the law has never come up with such a general principle, but observation suggests that it has in fact been beating about the bush for a long time, using other analytical tools. Besides, a number of recent developments internationally can be understood as attempts to get closer to the above position.

About the Civil Law Workshops

For well over a decade now, the Paul-André Crépeau Centre for Private and Comparative Law's “Civil Law Workshop” series has been a showcase for new ideas relating to aspects of fundamental private law in the civilian tradition.

This activity was accredited for 1.5 hour of CLE by the Barreau du Québec (no. 10058273).