Full case report

Pinard-Byrne v Linton

Reference [2015] UKPC 41
Court Privy Council

Judge Lords Clarke, Wilson, Sumption, Carnwath, Toulson

Date of Judgment 12 Oct 2015


Summary

Privy Council Appeal from Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (Commonwealth of Dominica) – Defamation – Libel – Reynolds qualified privilege/ public interest defence – Whether the Court of Appeal was wrong to have overturned the first instance judge’s rejection of the defence


Facts

The appellant is a chartered accountant who was involved in an investment and development programme in Dominica known as the Layou River Project. On 26 February 2002 the appellant was a guest on a radio call-in programme discussing the Layou River Project. The respondent, a journalist, called into the programme and made comments accusing the appellant of criminality, dishonest and unprofessional conduct. The respondent repeated these allegations in an article published on the internet in May 2002 which remained live until September 2003 entitled Professional Conduct Procedure – The KPB Version. The appellant brought a claim against the respondent on the basis that these statements were defamatory. The respondent relied upon the defence of qualified privilege. The High Court upheld the appellant’s claim.

The Court of Appeal allowed the respondent’s appeal and upheld the defence of qualified privilege.


Issue

Whether the Court of Appeal was wrong to have overturned the Judge’s rejection of the defence of qualified privilege following Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd [2001] 2 AC 127.


Held

allowing the appeal. Lord Clarke giving the judgment of the Board

The Court of Appeal erred in overturning the Judge’s rejection of the Reynolds defence. It was necessary in order to succeed under the defence to carry out a reasonable investigation to ascertain whether the defamatory imputations levelled at the appellant/ claimant were true and the respondent/defendant did not carry out an investigation to that end. Whilst the respondent/ defendant made some investigations into the project generally there was no evidence that he investigated whether the appellant/ claimant was guilty of the kind of wrongdoing alleged in the words complained: [32].


Comment

A useful re-iteration of the fact that where a defendant relies upon a Reynolds defence it is not sufficient to focus solely upon whether the subject-matter is one of public interest. It is necessary to lead evidence and prove that it is in the public interest to publish the defamatory imputations levelled at the claimant.

The Reynolds defence has now been replaced, in England and Wales, with section 4, Defamation Act 2013. It remains to be seen whether the court will follow reasoning of this kind when considering the statutory defence, in particular, s4(1)(b).


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Instructing Solicitors

Simons Muirhead Burton for the Appellant