Beleidigung, defamation, insult, assault

In English and U.S. law, defamation is nearly always a tort, not a crime. It consists, loosely speaking, in communicating to a third party some fact about the victim that tends to lower his or her reputation among right-thinking people. If the fact is true, that is a complete defence. Thus, three people are needed. One form, libel, is in permanent form (often writing), and the other, slander, is not.
In German law, there is also defamation, and the word Diffamierung can be used. The two forms of defamation differ in seriousness, but both can be either permanent or impermanent, in speech or in writing. To distinguish them, therefore, libel and slander won’t do.These two offences (üble Nachrede and Verleumdung) are part of a group of offences headed Beleidigung. These offences also include insult, for which only two people are needed, and a form of assault – if you indicate your disrespect for someone by spitting in their face, this is also covered, and I am calling it assault, although the problem with that is that the English reader may not realize its connection to insult. There are a couple of other offences, such as insulting the dead.

How, then, to translate the heading Beleidigung? I used to ask my students this question with the example of a list of crime statistics. My answer would have been Insult, assault and defamation.

Now, in the crime statistics summary, I find Insult, assault and battery. That is very good, but what has happened to the defamation? It has completely disappeared.

In the Federal Ministry of Justice’s translation of the Criminal Code (via German Law Archive), the heading for the group of offences is the misleading Insult, üble Nachrede is translated as malicious gossip (whereas it can be in writing or oral) and Verleumdung as defamation (which applies equally to both terms).

8 thoughts on “Beleidigung, defamation, insult, assault

  1. You gave an interesting talk on this subject at Cambridge a few years ago, with yours truly sitting agitated in the spellbound audience.

    If I can make a suggestion: defamation in Eng. & Wales can amount to a criminal offence: criminal libel, though I’d agree the number of crim. prosecutions have been few and far between. I think Sir John Mortimer QC was defending in one of them.

    Also I would go so far as to suggest that the criminal acts of sedition, Incitement to (Military) Disaffection and Public Order race- and religion-hateful slogan-chanting and leafletting in the UK are species of defamation.

    There’s also another category of defamation that, exceptionally, is eligible for legal aid in the UK: the tort of ‘injurious or malicious falsehood’ or slander of title/US defamation liability i.e. slagging off a trader’s goods or business. Does the Beleidigung have to be untrue?

  2. Hi Adrian. Sorry to hear you weren’t sitting spellbound in an agitated audience.

    I am already too longwinded for the weblog form. I am trying to concentrate on one aspect in each entry. These extra details are fascinating and I think you might consider starting a blog of your own.

    In saying ‘defamation is *nearly* always a tort’, I hoped not to omit the reference to criminal libel. Beleidigung in the form of üble Nachrede and Verleumdung has to be false, as far as I remember: in the first case, truth is a defence, and in the second, it is stated in the definition ‘eine unwahre Tatsache’. Actually I meant to mention this, but it goes further than the general point requires.

  3. Thanks for that Margaret. Actually, I was agitated as you managed to slap down my Eng. tort-bound comments v. effectively.

    I misunderstood ‘not a crime’ as never a crime, rather than not always a crime.

    I appreciate one point at a time. So we won’t go into UK criminal blasphemy – Gotteslästerung – that is at the moment anti-Christian only: there, but for the grace of God, went Salman Rushdie with his Satanic Verses after the London blasphemy court case against him was dropped.

    Fast becoming swamped with work, I’d rather fit my choice comments – between translation jobs – onto websites like yours and the Lawzone than starting one of my own.

  4. Thanks for the Lawzone reference, Adrian. I didn’t know about that one!
    Of course the other matters are just as interesting. They need a separate entry, I think. I remember that about blasphemy being only against Christianity, but I had the feeling that the courts were just waiting for a chance to broaden it (a very vague memory, I must admit).

    Hmm, I sound quite aggressive in Cambridge. All those years of teaching, I suppose.

  5. Yes the Lawzone is for all and sometimes semi-literate, lazy law-student sundry. The allied Lawyers’-only Forum seems under-used.

    You’re quite right about pressure to widen out blasphemy in the UK to non-Christian religions. There’s also a movement to abolish it altogether as being archaic.

    Reverting to the original points, I wonder about ‘verbal affront and physical (spitting) assault’ for Beleidigung and ‘malicious/ injurious verbal or written falsehood’ for üble Nachrede. The Eng. species is being extended by the courts to non-trade slander to bypass the non-legal aid problem.

  6. You mean they’re making non-trade slander actionable per se?

    About the translation of Beleidigung re spitting and insult, I would have to (have never got round to) sit down and read it up again and gradually work out some equivalents. But I suspect that there is not going to be one equivalent that works in all circumstances.

  7. No. Non-trade slander in the UK is not being made actionable per se – at the moment. I don’t know whether üble Nachrede shares the per se attribute. Proof of actual or potential financial losses still has to be shown for malicious falsehood, though the tort is developing all the time.

    For Beleidigung I also thought of ‘simply’ privately actionable insulting behaviour, as opposed to the arrestable type in Eng. & Wales ‘likely to cause a Common Law breach of the peace’ not piece of cake, as some Internet contributors might spell.

  8. Hi,

    I’m enquiring where I could obtain info upon the German Law for slander of which I have been accused of. I would like to know what I would be up against in a German Court of Law if found guily.

    However, I’d also like to know what the German Law mentions about sickening defamation of character of which was directed at me from this same guy in ermany planning to sue me for public slander becuase I posted on a forum asking people to avoid trading with the guy due to disgusting and sickening emails and what I posted, there was absolute 100% truth in.

    I don’t want to make a public apology because it will admit guilt of which I this person can definitely sue me.

    Is it right for an anonymous “lawyer” to ring me up and post an apology by a deadline date even though am refused contact information? Would a legal documentated letter be enough to respond to requests?

    Please send me an email if anyone can help.

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