Speidel v Plato Films Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
JudgeViscount Simonds,Lord Radcliffe,Lord Denning,Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest,Lord Guest
Judgment Date02 March 1961
Judgment citation (vLex)[1961] UKHL J0302-3

[1961] UKHL J0302-3

House of Lords

Viscount Simonds

Lord Radcliffe

Lord Denning

Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest

Lord Guest

Plato Films Limited and Others

Upon Report from the Appellate Committee, to whom was referred the Cause Plato Films Limited and others against Speidel, that the Committee had heard Counsel, as well on Wednesday the 25th, as on Thursday the 26th and Monday the 30th, days of January last, upon the Petition and Appeal of Plato Films Limited, whose registered office is situate at 70 New Cavendish Street, in the County of London, Stanley Forman, of 12 St. George's Avenue, London, N.7, and Kenneth John Edward Smith, of 86 Maybank Avenue, Wembley, Middlesex, praying, That the matter of the Order set forth in the Schedule, thereto, namely, an Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal of the 19th of May 1960, might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, and that the said Order might be reversed, varied or altered, and that the Petitioners might have the relief prayed for in the Appeal, or such other relief in the premises as to Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, might seem meet; as also upon the Case of General Hans Speidel, lodged in answer to the said Appeal; and due consideration had this day of of what was offered on either side in this Cause:

It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of Her Majesty the Queen assembled, That the said Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal, of the 19th day of May 1960, complained of in the said Appeal, be, and the same is hereby, Affirmed, and that the said Petition and Appeal be, and the same is hereby, dismissed this House: And it is further Ordered, That the Appellants do pay, or cause to be paid, to the said Respondent the Costs incurred by him in respect of the said Appeal, the amount thereof to be certified by the Clerk of the Parliaments.

Viscount Simonds

My Lords,


This appeal raises an interesting question, but it is one to which I have no doubt that the Court of Appeal has given the correct answer.


The Respondent was at all material times the Supreme Commander of the Allied Land Forces in Central Europe. He brought the action out of which this appeal arises against the Appellants, Plato Films Limited and two directors of that company, claiming damages for libel and an injunction. The libel alleged was that in a film called "Operation Teutonic Sword", which was exhibited and published by them at the National Film Theatre, London, on the 19th November, 1958, he had by words and photographic pictures been depicted ( a) as a party to the murders of King Alexander of Yugoslavia and M. Barthou in October, 1934, and ( b) as having betrayed Field Marshal Rommel to the Nazis in or about June, 1944.


By their defence the Appellants pleaded that the words and photographic pictures were true in substance and in fact But in addition to this plea of justification they sought to put in a plea which I must set out in full. It was as follows:

"5. Alternatively in mitigation of damages the Defendants will at the trial of this action give evidence in chief as to the circumstances under which the alleged libel was published and as to the character of the Plaintiff.

(A) Particulars of circumstances under which the alleged libel was published.

The photographic pictures and words of which the Plaintiff complains were published and exhibited as part of the film wherein the Plaintiff was further depicted as having been guilty of the conduct hereinafter set out the truth of which the Plaintiff in his amended Statement of Claim does not deny: namely that he:

( a) while Chief of Staff to the Military Commander in Occupied France between about September 1940 until about May 1942 was a party to and/or responsible for acts which were war crimes and/or against humanity and/or atrocities namely:

(i) the taking and/or shooting of civilians or others as hostages;

(ii) the deportation and/or removal to concentration camps and/or to the East of Jewish and other persons;

(iii) the execution in occupied France of the decrees whereunder the aforesaid and similar acts were carried out.

The Defendants rely on those parts of the said film which correspond with paragraphs 140 and 169 (inclusive) and 287 thereof.

( b) While Chief of General Staff to German Army Groups during the retreat of the German Armies in the U.S.S.R. was party to and/or responsible for acts generally accepted among civilised peoples as being contrary to the Rules of Warfare and/or wanton destruction of property and/or of terrorisation. The Defendants will rely on those parts of the said film corresponding with paragraphs 170 to 200 (inclusive) and 204 thereof.

( c) While being a Military Attache on the staff of or attached to the German Embassy in Paris between in or about the period between 1934 and 1938 (inclusive) engaged in espionage on behalf of Nazi Germany in preparation for the invasion of France. The Defendants rely on those parts of the said film which correspond with paragraphs 99 to 112 (inclusive), 140 and 202 thereof.

( d) While being a Military Attache on the staff of or attached to the German Embassy in Madrid in and about 1939, engaged in espionage on behalf of Nazi Germany against France, Great Britain and North Africa. The Defendants will rely on those parts of the said film which correspond with paragraphs 112, 113 and 202 thereof.

(B) Particulars of the matters relating to the character of the Plaintiff

The Plaintiff is widely reputed to have been and in fact was:

(i) guilty of the conduct alleged against him in the said film as set out in paragraphs 3, 4, and 5 (A) hereof ;

(ii) while Chief of Staff to the Military Commander in occupied France between the aforesaid dates:

( a) concerned in enforcing and carrying out the General Staff and other orders relating to the taking, selection, arrest, detention, execution and deportation of hostages;

( b) concerned in developing directing and enforcing Nazi Anti- Jewish policy in occupied France;

(iii) since 1926 an advocate of and believer in the suppression of German democratic political life."


The paragraphs to which reference is made in this plea are from the English text of the film.


The Respondent forthwith applied in Chambers that this plea should be struck out of the defence on the ground that it was scandalous and contrary to the rules of pleading and tended to prejudice, embarrass or delay the fair trial of the action. The Master in Chambers ordered that it should be struck out and his order was upheld by Mr. Justice Sachs. The Appellants appealed to the Court of Appeal, who in part allowed their appeal, in that they were permitted to plead as follows:

"Alternatively in mitigation of damages the Defendants will at the trial of this action give evidence in chief that the plaintiff had on or before the 19th day of November 1958 a bad reputation as a man who was a party to and/or responsible for acts which were war crimes and/or against humanity and/or atrocities."


The Respondent has not appealed against this order and I say nothing about it. It must be left to the trial Judge to determine what evidence he will admit. But this was not enough for the Appellants, who by their appeal to this House ask that their plea should be restored in its entirety.


My Lords, I do not think that the Court of Appeal could have come to a different conclusion so far as they affirmed Mr. Justice Sachs, if this case had come before them in or before the year 1882. For already by that time the clear preponderance of authority extending over a considerable period was that evidence of particular acts of misconduct on the part of the plaintiff could not be given in mitigation of damages where the defendant had failed to justify the libel of which the plaintiff complained. I find it unnecessary to examine this volume of authority, for that task was thoroughly performed by Mr. Justice Cave in Scott v. Sampson, 8 Q.B.D. 491, in a judgment which has to this day never been challenged. His conclusion was that "As to … evidence of facts and circumstances tending to shew the disposition of the plaintiff, both principle and authority seem equally against its admission. At the most it tends to prove not that the plaintiff has not, but that he ought not to have, a good reputation, and to admit evidence of this kind is in effect as was said in ( Jones v. Stevens 11 Price 235) to throw upon the plaintiff the difficulty of showing an uniform propriety of conduct during his whole life. It would give rise to interminable issues which would have but a very remote bearing on the question in dispute, which is to what extent the reputation which he actually possesses has been damaged by the defamatory matter complained of. Among all in support of the admissibility of this evidence. In ( Bracegirdle v. Bailey 1 F. & F. 536) such evidence was rejected by Byles, J. after consulting with Willes, J., and in Jones v. Stevens the evils attending its admission are eloquently pointed out."


That was in 1822. In the year 1929 the case of Hobbs v. Tinling (C.T.) and Company Limited [1929] 2 K.B. 1, came before the Court of Appeal, and though the question in that case was not precisely the same, the Court made it very clear that Scott v. Sampson had been correctly decided. The judgment of Cave, J., said Scrutton, L.J., had been accepted as an accurate statement of the law. But, said the Appellants, it had never been reviewed in this House. That is true and, long though the decision has stood unchallenged, I should not hesitate to reverse it, if (to use the language of Lord Wright in Admiralty Commissioners v. Valverda (Owners) [1938] A.C. 173) it was one of those cases in which serious inconvenience would follow from perpetuating an erroneous construction or rule of law. But it is far indeed from being such...

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  • Dead loss: damages for posthumous breach of the moral right of integrity.
    • Australia
    • Melbourne University Law Review Vol. 40 Nbr. 1, August - April 2016
    • 1 August 2016
    ...(147) Post, above n 145, 707-19. (148) Ibid 699-700, quoted in Rolph, above n 146, 24 (emphasis added). (149) Plato Films Ltd v Speidel [1961] AC 1090, 1138 (emphasis altered). (150) This also explains why a corporation can maintain a reputation. At common law, a corporation can maintain an......

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