George v Cannell: A Landmark Decision on Malicious Falsehood


The UK Supreme Court's decision in George v Cannell [2024] UKSC 19 has significantly clarified the legal landscape for claims of malicious falsehood under the Defamation Act 1952 (the Act). This landmark ruling addressed the interpretation of section 3(1) of the Act, particularly concerning the need to prove financial loss and the conditions for awarding damages.

The judgment establishes that while section 3(1) eases the burden of proving financial loss by creating a presumption of some loss, it does not automatically entitle claimants to more than nominal damages without substantial evidence of financial harm. This distinction ensures that the statutory provision does not override the necessity of proving significant loss for more sizeable damages.

Case Background

The case involved Fiona George, who sued her former employer, Linda Cannell, and her company, LCA Jobs Ltd., for making false and damaging statements about her professional conduct. George alleged that these statements were made maliciously and sought damages for libel, slander, and malicious falsehood. 

In the High Court it was decided that the statements made were false and malicious on the basis that Linda Cannell did not believe them to be true. However, the court found that the statements had not caused the claimant any financial loss. On appeal, this decision was reversed. The Court of Appeal held that that section 3(1) enables a claimant to establish liability for malicious falsehood where a falsehood is likely to cause financial loss even if no such loss had in fact occurred.

The Court of Appeal also held that, because liability was made out, the claimant could recover damages for injury to her feelings. 

Supreme Court's Ruling

By a three-to-two majority, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal. The Supreme Court's ruling, led by Lord Leggatt, addressed several critical points:

  1. Irrebuttable Presumption of Financial Loss: The court concluded that section 3(1) of the Defamation Act 1952 creates an irrebuttable presumption of some financial loss. This means that if the requirements of section 3(1) are met, the claimant does not need to prove specific financial loss to succeed in their claim for nominal damages. This presumption simplifies the process for claimants but limits the recovery to nominal damages unless further financial loss is demonstrated​.
  2. Nominal Damages Award: In this case, the court awarded Fiona George nominal damages of £5, acknowledging that she had met the requirements of section 3(1) but had not proven significant financial loss​.
  3. Damages for Injury to Feelings: The court differentiated between nominal damages and damages for injury to feelings. It ruled that to recover damages for injury to feelings, the claimant must prove substantial financial loss. The court found that George had not demonstrated this, and therefore, her claim for damages for injury to feelings was not upheld​.
  4. Aggravated Damages: The Supreme Court also addressed the issue of aggravated damages, which are awarded when the defendant's conduct has been particularly egregious. In this case, the court found no justification for such damages, on the basis of Cannell's actions when making the statements or in her subsequent conduct in the proceedings.


The UK Supreme Court’s judgment in George v. Cannell marks a pivotal moment in the interpretation of malicious falsehood claims under the Defamation Act 1952. By clarifying the requirements for proving financial loss and the conditions for awarding various types of damages, the court has provided a more structured framework for future litigants. Moreover, the decision underscores the court's approach to balancing the interests of claimants and defendants in cases of malicious falsehood. It highlights the importance of evidence in substantiating claims for financial loss and emotional distress, setting a precedent for future cases in this domain. This decision will undoubtedly influence how similar cases are approached by the court in the years to come.



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