Dalhousie Law Journal


Nova Scotia, criminal libel, Joseph Howe, reformist, legal history, qualified privilege, press


In 1835, Joseph Howe was prosecuted for criminal libel after an attack on the Halifax magistracy appeared in his newspaper I argue that Howe's acquittal flowed from a combination of factors. Howe's newspaper was a reformist, but not radical, voice at a time when criticism of government was becoming legitimate and newspapers were becoming increasingly vociferous, despite uncertainty about how daring they could be. Howe was popular, and the magistrates and prosecution were not. Most remarkably, however, Howe used Starkies 1830 libel treatise to construct a novel defence-qualified privilege-which had considerable exculpatory potential. The judge declined to put it to the jury, but it, together with Howe's latitude as an unrepresented litigant, permitted him to express what he had believed and intended when he published the article. In my assessment, as in Howe's, the trial signalled that criminal libel would be ineffective in controlling politicalcriticism in the Nova Scotia press.

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