Adams v Guardian Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  ScotCS 131
Court: Court of Session
Judge: Lord Reed
Date of judgment: 7 May 2003
Summary: Libel - Defamatory meaning - Parliamentary privilege - Fair comment - Veritas (justification) - Reynolds qualified privilege - whether a Reynolds qualified privilege defence is applicable in Scotland
Instructing Solicitors: Balfour & Manson for the Pursuer; Haig Scott & Co for the Defender
The Defenders published an article alleging that the Pursuer, a Labour MP, had leaked to the media a suicide note left by her friend and parliamentary colleague, Gordon McMaster. The note had been addressed to various other MPs, including the Prime Minister, and accused two further MPs of misconduct.
(1) Given that the note was not ‘confidential’, whether the article was capable of bearing a defamatory meaning.
(2) Whether Parliamentary privilege applied.
(3) Whether the Defenders could rely on the defence of fair comment.
(4) Whether the Defenders could rely on the defence of veritas (justification).
(5) Whether Reynolds privilege applied.
(1) It was irrelevant that the note may not have been confidential: what mattered was that the article described it as such, and so an allegation of leaking it was, or could be, defamatory. (2) Parliamentary privilege did not apply as the note was in no way connected with Parliamentary business and there was no challenge or investigation of the propriety or veracity of Parliamentary actions or statements. (3) The defence of fair comment was rejected as there was no part of the article that could be regarded as comment. (4) The Defenders could not rely on veritas as their pleadings in relation to it were insufficiently relevant or specific. (5) There was no suggestion that Scottish law should adopt a different approach to that in Reynolds. The question of whether this defence was made out could not be satisfactorily answered without hearing the evidence.
The case establishes that Reynolds is applicable in Scotland as well as in England & Wales, but is interesting in its discussion of the practicalities of adjudicating on a Reynolds’ defence. In particular, the Court found it impossible to rule on the privilege claim without going into the evidence. South of the Border there have been some efforts to persuade the Court to adjudicate on a Reynolds plea (usually under CPR Part 24) in advance of a full trial. This case demonstrates that such cases will be rare.