Define: Plea In Justification

Plea In Justification
Plea In Justification
Quick Summary of Plea In Justification

A plea in justification is a defence strategy employed by a defendant in a legal case. It is categorised as an affirmative defence, meaning that the defendant presents facts and arguments that, if proven true, would undermine the plaintiff’s or prosecution’s claim, regardless of the truthfulness of the allegations in the complaint. For instance, in a criminal case, a defendant may use a plea in justification to assert that they acted in self-defence or were coerced into committing the crime. In a civil case, a defendant may employ a plea in justification to argue that they should not be held responsible for the plaintiff’s damages because the plaintiff shares some of the blame. The burden of proof for an affirmative defence rests with the defendant. Other defence strategies include dilatory defences, which temporarily impede or delay a lawsuit without addressing the merits, and real defences, which are valid against any potential claimant.

What is the dictionary definition of Plea In Justification?
Dictionary Definition of Plea In Justification

In legal proceedings, a plea in justification occurs when the defendant presents a rationale for why the plaintiff’s or prosecutor’s case lacks validity. This defence strategy is employed in court and falls under the category of an affirmative defence. An affirmative defence involves the defendant asserting factual evidence and arguments that, if proven true, would undermine the plaintiff’s or prosecution’s claim. It is the responsibility of the defendant to substantiate an affirmative defence. Instances of affirmative defences include duress, insanity, and self-defence.

Full Definition Of Plea In Justification

In the legal system of the United Kingdom, “plea in justification” is a significant concept, particularly within the context of defamation law. This plea serves as a defence mechanism, allowing a defendant to justify their actions by proving that the statements made were true. This comprehensive overview aims to explore the origins, application, and implications of a plea in justification, detailing its procedural aspects, judicial interpretation, and role in contemporary legal practice.

Historical Background

The plea in justification has its roots in common law, which has evolved over centuries. Historically, defamation law in England aimed to protect individuals from false statements that could harm their reputation. The defence of truth, originally known as “justification,” was recognised early on, reflecting the principle that a person should not be penalised for speaking the truth. This principle was codified in the Libel Act 1843, also known as Lord Campbell’s Act, which explicitly allowed truth as a defence in defamation cases, provided it was for the public benefit.

Defamation Law and Plea in Justification

Defamation law in the UK is primarily governed by the Defamation Act 2013. Defamation can be classified into two categories: libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation). A statement is considered defamatory if it harms the reputation of an individual or entity in the eyes of right-thinking members of society.

The Defamation Act 2013

The Defamation Act 2013 introduced significant reforms to simplify and clarify the law of defamation. Under Section 2 of the Act, truth is established as a complete defence to a defamation claim. This codification aligns with the historical principle of justification. According to the Act:

  1. Subsection (1): It is a defence to an action for defamation for the defendant to show that the imputation conveyed by the statement complained of is substantially true.
  2. Subsection (2): If one or more of the imputations conveyed by the statement are shown to be substantially true, the defence does not fail by reason of the fact that the statement conveys one or more imputations that are not shown to be substantially true, provided that the imputations that are not shown to be substantially true do not seriously harm the claimant’s reputation.

Procedural Aspects

When a defendant intends to rely on a plea in justification, certain procedural requirements must be met. These include:

  1. Notice of Defence: The defendant must file a defence, stating the intention to rely on truth as a defence. This defence must outline the factual basis for the claim that the statement is substantially true.
  2. Burden of Proof: The burden of proof lies with the defendant. They must provide evidence to demonstrate that the statements made were substantially true.
  3. Evidence: The defendant must present evidence that supports the truth of the statement. This evidence can include documents, witness testimonies, or any other relevant material.

Judicial Interpretation

The judiciary has played a crucial role in interpreting and applying the plea in justification. Several landmark cases have shaped the understanding and scope of this defence.

Key Cases

  1. Alexander v. North Eastern Railway Co. (1865): This case established that a statement need not be true in every detail. It suffices if the “sting” or the essence of the statement is true. The principle of substantial truth was thus reinforced.
  2. Gatley on Libel and Slander: Gatley’s treatise is often cited in defamation cases. It provides a comprehensive analysis of defamation law, including the plea in justification. The courts frequently refer to this work for guidance on complex issues related to defamation and justification.
  3. Terry v. Persons Unknown (2010): In this case, the High Court reiterated the importance of the public interest in the context of defamation. It highlighted that even if a statement is true, its publication must also be considered in light of public benefit.

Application in Contemporary Legal Practice

In modern legal practice, the plea of justification remains a vital defence in defamation cases. Its application, however, is nuanced and requires careful consideration of several factors:

  1. Public Interest: While truth is a defence, the courts often consider whether the publication of the statement serves the public interest. This is particularly relevant in cases involving public figures or matters of public concern.
  2. Malice: The presence of malice can impact the defence of justification. If a statement is made with malicious intent, it may undermine the defence, even if the statement is true.
  3. Balancing Rights: The courts must balance the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights) with the right to protect one’s reputation (Article 8). This balancing act is crucial in determining the outcome of defamation cases involving a plea in justification.

Challenges and Criticisms

While the plea in justification is a well-established defence, it is not without its challenges and criticisms.

  1. Burden of Proof: The requirement for the defendant to prove the truth of their statements can be onerous. Gathering sufficient evidence to substantiate claims can be difficult, particularly in cases involving complex or sensitive issues.
  2. Chilling Effect: The potential for defamation claims and the associated burden of proving the truth can have a chilling effect on free speech. Journalists and individuals may be deterred from speaking out on important issues due to the fear of legal repercussions.
  3. Public Interest: Determining what constitutes the public interest can be subjective. The courts must navigate this complex terrain to ensure that legitimate expressions of truth are protected while preventing harmful or malicious statements.

Recent Developments and Trends

Recent legal developments and trends have further shaped the landscape of defamation law and the plea for justification.

  1. Online Defamation: The rise of social media and online platforms has increased the incidence of defamation. The courts are now faced with new challenges in addressing defamatory statements made online and determining the truth in a digital context.
  2. Reputation Management: Individuals and organisations are increasingly seeking to manage their reputations proactively. This has led to a rise in defamation claims, with a corresponding increase in the use of the plea in justification.
  3. Judicial Guidance: Recent case law continues to provide judicial guidance on the application of the plea in justification. Courts are refining the principles and tests used to assess the truth and public interest in defamation cases.


The plea in justification remains a cornerstone of defamation law in the United Kingdom. It embodies the principle that truth is a defence against defamation claims, reflecting a long-standing commitment to protecting free speech while safeguarding reputations. The Defamation Act 2013 has reaffirmed this defence, codifying the requirement for substantial truth and emphasising the public interest.

As defamation law continues to evolve in response to new challenges and technological advancements, the plea for justification will remain a critical area of focus. Balancing the rights to freedom of expression and reputation requires careful consideration by the courts, ensuring that the principles of justice and fairness are upheld.

In conclusion, the plea in justification is a complex yet vital aspect of defamation law. Its historical roots, procedural requirements, judicial interpretation, and contemporary application all contribute to its significance. As society and technology continue to change, the legal framework surrounding defamation and the plea for justification will undoubtedly continue to adapt, maintaining its relevance and importance in protecting both truth and reputation.

Plea In Justification FAQ'S

A plea in justification is a legal defence that argues that the defendant’s actions were justified or necessary under the circumstances.

Self-defence, defence of others, defence of property, and necessity are common examples of a plea in justification.

A plea in justification is not a plea of guilty or not guilty. It is a defence that argues that the defendant’s actions were justified or necessary.

The burden of proof for a plea in justification is on the defendant. The defendant must prove that their actions were justified or necessary.

If a plea in justification is successful, the defendant may be acquitted of the charges.

No, a plea in justification can only be used for certain crimes where the defendant’s actions may be considered justified or necessary.

No, a plea in justification cannot be used if the defendant provoked the situation.

No, a plea in justification cannot be used if the defendant used excessive force.

No, a plea in justification cannot be used if the defendant was mistaken about the circumstances.

It depends on the circumstances of your case. You should consult with a qualified attorney to determine if a plea in justification is a viable defence for your case.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 7th June 2024.

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