Armstrong v Times Newspapers Ltd & Others (No.3) (QB)
Reference:  EWHC 1614 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Gray J
Date of judgment: 30 Jun 2006
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Meaning - Preliminary Issue
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In June 2004, The Sunday Times published an article about the cyclist, Lance Armstrong, entitled “LA Confidential“. The Claimant contended that the article suggested that he was guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs. The Defendants’ “grounds to investigate” meaning (Chase Level 3) had been struck out in December 2004 leaving the parameters of meaning between guilt (the Claimant’s meaning) and “reasonable (or strong) grounds to suspect” (the Defendants’ meaning). Eady J ordered trial by Judge alone and that meaning should be determined as a preliminary issue. The Defendants appeal against that order was dismissed.
The meaning the article bore in fact.
The overall impression conveyed to the hypothetical ordinary reasonable readers that the Claimant had taken drugs to enhance his performance in cycling competitions. It naturally followed, and was accepted by the Defendants, that this connoted that the article also thereby alleged that he was a fraud a cheat and a liar. This impression as to the meaning conveyed by the words was not altered or displaced by a textual analysis of the article.
As he did in the earlier decision of Charman, Gray J recognised the difficulty inherent in the process of a judge ruling on meaning. On the one hand, as clear from the authorities, it is the judge’s job to give the article its natural ordinary meaning, avoiding an over analytical approach. On the other, it is important for him to give a reasoned judgment. Notably, the Judge indicated that Defendants should specify the meaning they contend the words bear in their defence (see §15). This meaning will not necessarily be the same meaning as that put forward in Lucas Box particulars.