Chastity claims belted

Posted: 29th January 2013

In striking out a woman’s defamation and malicious falsehood action in respect of her ex-husband’s accusation that she was not a virgin when they married, a High Court judge has underlined the dramatic change over the past century in society’s views on the chastity of women. Such an allegation would not, in general, be viewed today as an adverse reflection on a woman’s reputation.

The ex-husband, a doctor, had been struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council after it was found that he had forged a medical report for the purposes of foreign divorce proceedings which suggested that the claimant had been an unchaste bride. In High Court proceedings, the claimant, a Muslim, argued that the slur on her good name had caused her distress and embarrassment and damaged her expectations of a substantial dowry.RCJ

However, remarking on the shift in social mores that had taken place since the Slander of Women Act 1891 took a strong line on the sanctity of female reputations, Mr Justice Eady observed: ‘In our society today, an allegation of unchastity would not be taken by most readers to reflect in itself adversely upon a claimant's reputation.’

The judge agreed that the ‘bogus medical report’ could be viewed as damaging to the claimant’s reputation as it might be considered wrong by some for a woman who portrayed herself as a practising Muslim to lose her virginity prior to marriage. The report might also be seen as bearing the innuendo that the claimant had assured her ex-husband and his family that she was chaste before her wedding.

Commenting on the claimant’s plea that the damage to her reputation would reduce the value of her dowry, the judge noted: ‘I rather doubt that this is an element of financial compensation of which English law would take cognisance’. In the light of her ex-husband’s striking off, he was ‘hardly in a position to deny his wrongdoing’ and the claimant’s reputation had already been adequately vindicated.

The forged medical report had only been published to a relatively small number of people and the judge said: ‘All in all, I cannot see that the claimant would be likely to recover anything by way of damages which would justify further committing the court's resources to this litigation’. He concluded that there was no good reason for allowing the claimant to sue her ex-husband outside the normal one-year limitation period that applies to defamation cases.