Full case report

Murray v Associated Newspapers Ltd

Reference [2014] EWHC 1170 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Tugendhat J

Date of Judgment 15 Apr 2014


Summary

Libel – Statement in open court – Unilateral statement – CPR PD 53 para 6.1


Facts

Joanne Murray (aka JK Rowling) (“C”) claimed for libel in respect of an article published by Associated Newspapers Ltd (“D”) in the Daily Mail and on MailOnline. D made an unqualified offer of amends in accordance with the Defamation Act 1996 ss.2-4 which C accepted. The parties did not agree what steps should be taken pursuant to the offer.

C proposed making a unilateral statement in open court and sent a draft to D. D raised numerous objections. C made certain modifications to the draft statement, but D continued to oppose aspects of it. In particular D contended that part of the statement was not consistent with the pleaded meaning, and addressed matters going to damages that were not pleaded at all.

C applied for permission to read the statement under CPR PD 53 para.6.1, and asked for the application to be dealt with on paper on the basis of the correspondence. D objected to the proposed course and requested an oral hearing.


Issue

(1) Whether the application would be dealt with on paper or at an oral hearing;

(2) Whether C should be permitted to read the statement, given D’s objections regarding meaning and aggravation.


Held

Granting C’s application:

(1) The application would be dealt with on paper, as should be the norm. An oral hearing would come close to continuation of the proceedings which was prohibited under s.3(2) of the 1996 Act. It would also be unfair: as a defendant is free to put whatever it wants in any publication made under s.3(4), the court should be slow to permit a defendant to seek to control what a claimant may wish to say in a statement in open court. Deciding the application on paper was in accordance with the overriding objective. The resolution of C’s complaint, which D had eventually admitted to be well founded, had taken far too long already.

(2) A statement in open court is an ordinary incident of a defamation claim which a claimant should be allowed to make unless there is sufficient reason to refuse: Barnet v Crozier [1987] 1 WLR 272. What a claimant is to be permitted to say in a statement in open court is a matter which engages their Convention right to freedom of expression. Whether or not there is “sufficient reason” to refuse permission should not require the court to determine issues that would have been issues in the case if it had not settled, such as meaning. D’s submission that its offer of amends was only in respect of the pleaded meaning missed the point, as C’s application did not relate to the correction and apology offered as part of the offer of amends. C should be permitted to refer to matters going to damages, including hurt to feelings, and the Court would then consider C’s statement along with any apology from D when assessing damages under s.3(5). There was no sufficient reason to refuse C permission to read the statement.


Comment

A defendant has complete control over any apology, correction, or clarification it may publish following settlement of a libel claim. This judgment makes clear that a claimant will generally be permitted to read a statement in open court upon settling a defamation claim, and will be given a degree of latitude as to the terms of such a statement. Permission will only be refused where there is sufficient reason to do so, and the judge emphasised that when considering whether to grant permission the court must consider whether the statement would be defamatory of the defendant or any third party.

D was subsequently granted permission to appeal by the Court of Appeal.


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Instructing Solicitors

Schillings for C; Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for D.


Links

Mail to apologise over claim JK Rowling gave misleading 'sob story' about single mother past - Press Gazette