Is the truth always a defence

Just wondering in libel cases or slander, I often hear that the truth is a defence.

In other words if it’s true you’re safe

But that can’t be 100% can it. For instance let’s say I go around telling people, so and so had an abortion or so and so has HIV, if it’s true could one be able to say “Hey so what it’s ture”

Or if you put it on a webpage?

I mean lets say one says these people were seen going into an abortion clinic or were seen to have HIV meds with their name.

Aren’t there laws that prevent people from revealing things like medical records to the public? If so wouldn’t that be a case of truth not being a absolute defense?

Are there others?

This type of case wouldn’t be a libel or slander case. The contents of medical records wouldn’t matter if they were illegally revealed.

That would be an invasion of privacy, the kind where you make information known that is private and where the public has no interest, I think.

Defamation is not the same cause of action as invasion of privacy. Truth is an absloute defense to defamation actions but it is not a defense to invasion of privacy.

Just because someone goes into an abortion clinic doesn’t mean they have had an abortion. I’ve been in clinics where abortions are performed and I can assure you I’ve never had one.

Right. The best defense to an invasion-of-privacy suit is that the plaintiff is a “public figure” and had no expection of keeping his/her private life private. That’s how the gossip tabloids get away with it. But they can be sued successfully if they publish a false story about a celeb – Carol Burnett successfully sued the National Enquirer for libel (not invasion of privacy).

Truth is also no defense to the crime of sedition.

Good point. I know with anti-abortion the intent isn’t to prove but to make the experience unpleasent. In otherwords if they show a pic of you going into an abortion clinic 99.9% of the world won’t care

The hope is the parents or the husband / boyfriend sees it and asks “Why were you there??”

That would discourage people

Well what about this way. Let’s say for like an STD. What if you had sex with someone and got HIV or Syphillis or some other STD.

I guess it would be different if you got it from a prostitute rather than a husband.

From the point of being a public figure and whether you went around telling people “so and so” infected you

Depends on what country you are in. In the U.S., generally speaking, truth is more of a defense to a libel/slander claim than in the U.K., for instance.

Is it an invasion of privacy or illegal release of medical records if it’s not a medical professional who released the information? Obviously, if you’re her doctor, releasing information that Mary Smith had an abortion is illegal. It’s a HIPAA violation, if nothing else. But what if I, Jane Doe, was in the clinic to pick up some STD pamphlets and walking by the open door when I heard Mary Smith telling the doctor, “yes, I’m happy I just had that abortion”.

I know know with great accuracy that Mary Smith had an abortion, but am I bound by HIPAA? Bound by other privacy laws?

What if I was a doctor, but not Mary Smith’s doctor? What if I didn’t even work at that practice, but was a doctor there as a private patient?

Truth is also an absolute defence to libel/slander in the UK.

Truth is not a defense in a claim of false light.

Truth is not an absolute defense in a claim of false light. That’s what I meant.

Truth is not a defense until you actually stand trial:

1 in 136 U.S. residents behind bars

The thread is clearly about civil and not criminal matters, so your post really makes no sense.

Truth is a defence to an action for libel or slander. But:

It’s up to the defendant to prove the truth of the statement complained about; the plaintfiff doesn’t have to show that it’s false; just that it’s defamatory (i.e. it injures his reputation). Once that’s shown, the burden of proof switches to the defendant who (if he is relying on the truth of the statement) must (a) assert that it is true, and (b) prove that it is true.

Furthermore, he must prove the truth of the inneuendo drawn from the statement he made. Say that I make a series of statements which clearly and strongly suggest that you have been cheating on your spouse, even though I do not actually say “you have been cheating on your spouse”. You sue me. I defend the action by saying that what I said was true. The court is satisfied that there is an innuendo that you were cheating on your spouse. To succeed in my defense, it is not enough for me to show that the actual statements made are true; I must also show that the inneundo is true, i.e. that you were cheating on your spouse.

In several Australian jurisdictions (New South Wales, ACT, Queensland and Tasmania) truth is not a defence, it must be demonstrated that the material was published for the ‘public benefit’ or ‘in the public interest’.

NSW jettisoned the “public interest/benefit” requirement and now has the “truth alone” defence in line with the move towards uniform defamation laws across all states and territories. Section 25 of the *Defamation Act (NSW) * 2005:

However the “defamatory imputations” are not the truth of the published statements but what theaverage person imputes from the published facts. A court may find that the meaning of a published comment is is different to what the publisher intended. The publisher then may have to prove the truth of an imputation that you didn’t intend to be made at all.

You’re not bound by HIPAA in that instance. But like Otto said, you might be liable for torts other than defamation. At common law, giving out private infomation about a person that they would reasonably want kept secret may be a tort violation. Because each state has had over 200 years to modify the common law in any direction it wishes, that tort may or may not exist in your state, or it may have different contours in one jurisdiction than in another. And there is an exception for broadcasting private information that is newsworthy.


This sounds like the way libel laws are in the UK. It’s my understanding that in the US the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the statements are false. Thus, many people will sue for libel in the UK rather than the US for statements published in both countries. For example, Roman Polanski vs. Vanity Fair, or that Morrissey song about the Mike Joyce lawsuit that has never been released in the UK for fears of a libel suit.

I am presently running a case where abortion records were alleged to have been taken and disclosed by someone who was working in a records department. I expect to succeed on the tort of invasion of privacy, despite it being a relatively new tort. I don’t know if I will succeed on the breach of fiduciary relationship claim – at issue will be whether the fiduciary relationship between the doctor and patient carries down to the records department employee. As far as damages under privacy legislation goes, in my province the damages are so low as to not be worth going for, and the way the legislation is written, I doubt if it would cover circumstances in which the employee was acting outside the scope of employment. It will be quite a while until this aspect of the law settles down. In the mean time, it is a crap shoot. (Or I may get nowhere, for the disclosure was made in another court case, so I may get knocked out on absolute privilege, although recent developments in that area are putting a few cracks in the wall.)