Full case report

Thompson v James

Reference [2014] EWCA Civ 600
Court Court of Appeal

Judge Longmore, Black, Underhill LLJ

Date of Judgment 14 May 2014


Summary

Defamation – Libel- Appeal – Meaning – Whether Blog post bore meaning found by Judge – Whether Rules on Meaning needed to be amended for political speech- Article 10


Facts

At trial in 2013 Jacqui Thompson, a blogger and resident in Carmarthenshire lost her libel action against Carmarthenshire County Council and its its Chief Executive, Mark James. Mr James also succeeded on his counter-claim and was awarded damages of £25,000 in respect of three out of five posts he complained about on Mrs Thompson’s blog.

Mrs Thompson sought permission to appeal. It was granted only in respect of the meaning the judge found the second of the three blog posts bore.


Issue

1. Whether the meaning of the second Blog Post of 22 March 2011 bore the meaning found by the Judge that Mr James was unlawfully and corruptly using public money for the benefit of himself and his cronies.

2. Whether the principles to determine meaning need to be amended where the claimant was a local government officer in order not to infringe article 10.


Held

1. The Blog Post bore the meaning found by the Judge. The use of the term ‘slush fund’ was an imputation that the provider of the funds is acting corruptly. It meant dirty money. The post was asserting that Mr James was not an innocent recipient but was either instrumental in setting up a slush fund or knew it was being set up so be he could benefit from it. Skuse v Granada Television Ltd [1996] EMLR 278, 285 and Cruddas v Calvert [2014] EMLR 140 paras 18-22 applied.

2. The test in Jeynes v News Magazines [2008] EWCA Civ 130 at [14] and [15] did not need amplification in cases where local authority officers or servants of central government brought defamation proceedings. Article 10 is already taken into account in the formulation of the Jeynes principles.


Comment

An unsurprising result given the judgment below and a straightforward application of the principle that an appellate court will not depart from a factual decision of the court below unless ‘quite satisfied’ it was wrong. The issue of meaning in the context of political speech has been addressed in a number of recent cases and will continue to vex. See, for instance, Lait v Evening Standard, Waterson v Lloyd and Mughal v Telegraph Media Group.


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Instructing Solicitors

Simons Muirhead Burton for Appellant; Direct Access for the Respondent