February 8, 2010
Supreme Court to hear fair comment appeal
Joseph v Spiller first fair comment case to reach highest appeal court since 1992
The Supreme Court has granted permission to the Defendants in Joseph v Spiller to appeal against a Court of Appeal decision which upheld the striking out of their fair comment defence.
The case concerns a Motown tribute band, who complain of a website publication by their former agent which alleged that they had told him in an email that “contracts hold no water in legal terms”. It is not disputed between the parties that the email which was in fact sent stated that the agent’s particular contract with them (not contracts pe se) held “no water in legal terms”.
The central issue on the appeal is likely to concern whether the knowing inclusion of a false fact in the words complained of rendered the fair comment defence unsustainable.
The last time the House of Lords considered the fair comment defence was in Telnikoff v Matusevitch  2 AC 343. The last defamation case considered by it was Jameel v Wall Street Journal  UKHL 44. In the last ten years of its existence the House of Lords has only considered 10 mainstream defamation appeals.
5RB’s William Bennett (instructed by Howard Kennedy) is acting for the Claimants.