4. If I sent an article defamatory of X in a sealed envelope addressed to my best friend (Y) but the letter was opened by Y’s secretaries and assistants, will I be liable for the publication of the defamatory article to these other persons?
Generally speaking, the writer would only be responsible for the publication of the defamatory article to the particular person to whom the letter was addressed. However, if the writer, given the circumstances of the case, knew that there was a likelihood that the letter could be opened and read by other persons, the writer may be liable for the publication of the defamatory article to those other persons ( Gatley on Libel and Slander [10 th Edition] ).
There was a case in which the defendant sent a letter to the owner of a firm not knowing that there were other people in the office. The letter was opened by a clerk of the firm and was read by three other clerks in the office. The Court held that the defendant should have considered that his letter might, in the ordinary course of the firm's business, be opened and read by a clerk. If he took no precaution to prevent this (e.g. marking the envelope with the words "private and confidential"), he was responsible for the publication.