Defamation is a complex and detailed tort. There is no statutory definition of defamation, but in common law it is the publication (in any form) by another of any statement which injures the plaintiff's reputation by exposing him to hatred, ridicule or contempt, or which tends to lower him in the esteem of right-thinking members of society. (Sim v Stretch  2 All ER 1237, 1240, per Lord Atkin). The tort of defamation is something of an oddity among torts: it is usually tried by a jury (though the Defamation Act 1996 makes low-value defamation triable by a judge alone), the right of action is extinguished by the death of either party, and no legal aid is available.
WHAT HAS TO BE PROVED
Subject to the differences between the two types of defamation, libel and slander (explained below), the claimant must prove: (1) that the statement was defamatory,
(2) that it referred to him, and
(3) that it was published, ie communicated, to a third party.
The onus will then shift to the defendant to prove any of the following three defences: (1) truth (or justification),
(2) fair comment on a matter of public interest, or (3) that it was made on a privileged occasion.
In addition, some writers put forward the following as defences in their own right: (4) unintentional defamation, and
DISTINCTION BETWEEN LIBEL AND SLANDER
The two forms of defamation are libel and slander. The essential features of defamation are the same no matter whether libel or slander is involved. The difference between the two is nonetheless important. The distinction is poorly defined, but seems to hang on permanence however this in itself is insufficient. The basic differences between the torts of libel and slander are as follows:
(1) Libel is a defamatory statement in permanent form, for example,
· wax images (Monson v Tussaud's Ltd)
· films (Youssoupoff v MGM Pictures Ltd)
· radio & television broadcasts (s16 Def. Act ‘52; ss166 & 201 Brdcstg Act ‘90),
· public performances of plays (s4 Theatres Act 1968). Slander is a defamatory statement in a transient form.
(2) Libel is actionable per se whereas damage must be proved for slander, except in four instances: · Where there is an allegation that the claimant has committed an imprisonable offence; · Where there is an imputation that the claimant is suffering from a contagious disease, such as venereal disease, leprosy, plague and, arguably, HIV/AIDS; · Where there is an imputation that a woman has committed adultery or otherwise behaved in an 'unchaste' fashion (Slander of Women Act 1891); or · Where there is an imputation is calculated to disparage the claimant in his office, profession, trade or other lawful calling.
(3) Libel may be prosecuted as a crime as well as a tort, whereas slander is only a tort.
Jones v Jones  2 AC 481, HL
A woman D alleged orally that a teacher P had committed adultery with the school cleaner on school premises, but P's action for slander did not assert special damage. Affirming the Court of Appeal and finding for D, the House of Lords said that although P would have been liable for dismissal if the allegations had been proved, the allegation was not directed against him as a schoolmaster per se. (N.B. If it had been an allegation of fornication with a pupil, the outcome might well have been different).
[Note that: The Defamation Act 1952 states expressly in s.1 that defamation contained in any radio or TV broadcast is to be treated as libel, and s.4 of the Theatres Act 1968 similarly gives the status of libel to defamatory words spoken in the course of a play in performance. The status of skywriting is the subject of a "Misleading Case" by Sir Alan Herbert, but seems to be undecided.]
FUNCTION OF JUDGE AND JURY...