Full case report

Hunt v Evening Standard Ltd

Reference [2011] EWHC 272 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Tugendhat J

Date of Judgment 18 Feb 2011


Summary

Libel – Strike out – Justification – Relevance of particulars of justification – Evidence of general bad character – Admissibility – CPR r.3.4(2)


Facts

D published an article which C alleged meant that he was the leader of a criminal network involved in murder, drug trafficking and fraud and that he was planning to take charge of a development site and sell it on to a notorious criminal gang. D pleaded a defence of justification with a Lucas-Box meaning that C was either guilty or there were reasonable grounds to suspect him of blackmail, witness intimidation and threat to kill.

The particulars of justification referred to various convictions of C’s associate (MS), as well as alleged instances of witness intimidation by C. C sought to strike out these parts of the Defence on the grounds that they were irrelevant and insufficiently particularised. C also sought to strike out a reference in the Defence to C’s general bad reputation which put in issue his description of himself as a “businessman” with substantial interests in commercial property. C contended this part was wholly unparticularised as it should identify the community or location within which C’s reputation was alleged to be bad. D submitted that it had given notice in accordance with Plato Films v Spiedel.


Issue

(1) Whether the references in the defence to C’s associate and the witness intimidation cases should be struck out;

(2) Whether the reference to C’s general bad character should be struck out.


Held

(1) The references in the defence to C’s associate and his convictions lacked particularity such as to show any relevance to the Lucas-Box meanings. They did not identify the date or place of conviction, and it was impossible to know what conduct resulted in the convictions. Further an appeal in respect of the offences was allowed in 1996. Unless D could plead that C had knowledge of his associate’s convictions, they could not be relevant to justification or to damages. The references were therefore struck out.

As to the references to witness intimidation, what D had pleaded was not blackmail or witness intimidation, but complainants refusing to provide statements, or to proceed because of fear. It was not said that the fear was induced by threats: on the contrary the fear was impliedly said to be induced by the violent nature of the offences of which the complainant said he was the victim. There was no Lucas-Box meaning to the effect that C had committed acts of violence other than by way of witness intimidation or threat to kill. The incidents were therefore struck out.

(2) Evidence of a claimant’s general bad reputation is admissible in mitigation of damages, but the scope of the principle is not clear from the authorities. Damages in libel were required to repair the damage to a person’s reputation and injury to his feelings. It was unheard of for a claimant not to give evidence as to his status at the start of a libel action. However, if he failed to do so, there was a risk that any damages might fail to reach a figure which would provide the vindication that he had brought the proceedings to secure. Therefore the references to C’s bad reputation would not be struck out.


Comment

Tugendhat J outlined the principles applicable to pleading justification, reiterating the guidance provided by the Court of Appeal in Musa King v Telegraph Group.  The judge also remarked on the paucity of recent authorities on the scope of admissibility of evidence on general bad reputation in mitigation of damages.  However, he highlighted the approach taken by the Court of Appeal in Turner v News Group Newspapers and by Eady J in Tesco Stores v Guardian News & Media Ltd, noting that the courts should be careful in shutting out matters which could be directly relevant to a jury’s assessment of damages.


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Instructing Solicitors

Hughmans Solicitors for the Claimant; Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP for the Defendant