Full case report
Lait v Evening Standard Ltd
Reference  EWHC 642 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division
Judge Eady J
Date of Judgment 25 Mar 2010
Libel – Meaning – Aggravated damages
L, a Conservative MP, sued for libel in respect of an article in which it was wrongly stated that she had been forced to repay nearly £25,000 capital gain made on the sale of a tax-payer funded home. D applied to strike out the meaning complained of as impossible, and to strike out the claim, contending that the article could not bear any defamatory meaning. D also applied for the striking out of parts of the aggravated damages plea as an abuse of process. L argued that it was legitimate to plead different meanings in aggravation of damages, and that the ordinary rules about meaning did not apply to aggravated damages pleas.
(1) Whether the article was capable of bearing L’s pleaded meaning
(2) Whether the article was capable of bearing any defamatory meaning
(3) Whether L was entitled to rely on additional meanings by way of aggravation
(1) The article was not capable of bearing L’s pleaded meaning.
(2) It was capable of bearing one or more other defamatory meanings.
(3) The aggravated damages plea should relate to D’s conduct at or after time of publication; it was ‘muddling’ to rely on a different meaning as aggravation in respect of the damage supposedly occasioned by the publication of the words complained of. The article was not capable of bearing one of the additional meanings, and the meaning was not saved by being pleaded under a different label. It is not permissible to plead an additional meaning, whether in aggravation of damages or otherwise, which is said to have arisen by reason of facts occurring after publication. L should therefore have an opportunity to re-plead her case.
The judgment clarifies the rules of pleading in relation to aggravated damages. Where there is a potentially legitimate meaning: “it is confusing (especially, potentially, for a jury) to have to address a different defamatory meaning in respect of aggravation of damages from the primary meaning. They would have to decide whether the words bore the meaning in question and I cannot see why it should be pleaded in a different place. If it belongs anywhere, it belongs in the conventional meaning paragraph.”
Carter-Ruck for the Claimant; Taylor Wessing LLP for the Defendant
More from 5RB
5RB is the pre-eminent set in the area for handling defamation, privacy, contempt and data protection matters. Interviewees praise the set for having great depth and quality of counsel, and note that it boasts many of the top barristers in the field. Get the lowdown here.
New 3rd Edition of The Law of Privacy and the Media, published by OUP. Further details here.