The system the judges upheld had its roots in feudalism. Edward I, one of England’s most barbarous kings, introduced the crime of scandalum magnatum while he colonised Wales, hammered the Scots and expelled the Jews. “Henceforth none be so hardy to tell or publish any false News or Tales, whereby Discord, or Occasion of Discord or Slander may grow between the King and his People, or the great Men of the Realm,” Edward declared in the Statute of Westminster of 1275. Although the statute fell into disuse, and was overtaken by the libel law that the Star Chamber used in the 1630s, an element of the feudal concern to defend the mighty remains in English libel law and the laws of many former British colonies.
Contrary to natural justice and common law, the burden of proof is on the defendant. Once a claimant has shown that the words in question are likely to provoke hatred, ridicule or contempt, the alleged libeller has to prove that what he or she has written is true or a fair comment based on true information. English libel law, and the laws of Scotland, Ireland and all the former British colonies that take it as its guide, works on the assumption that a gentleman’s word is his bond and that anyone who impugns his honour must prove his case.