Full case report

Armstrong v Times Newspapers Ltd & Others (QB)

Reference [2004] EWHC 2928 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 17 Dec 2004


Summary

Libel – Meaning – Reasonable Grounds to Suspect/Investigate – Justification – Qualified Privilege – Reynolds – Summary Judgment – CPR Part 24 – Striking Out CPR 3.4 – Costs – Security for Costs – Costs Capping Orders


Facts

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 in cycling competitions. The Defendants contended that the article meant only that there were reasonable grounds to suspect the Claimant of doing so or that there were grounds to investigate whether he had. The Defendant also relied upon Reynolds qualified privilege defence. The Claimant applied to strike out (1) the “ground to investigate” meaning and supporting particulars of justification on the grounds of incapacity; and (2) the Reynolds defence on the basis that it had no prospects of success. The Defendants cross-applied for an order for security for costs and a costs-capping order.


Issue

(1) Whether the article was capable of bearing only the “grounds to investigate” meaning; (2) what if any of the supporting particulars of justification should be struck out; (3) whether the Reynolds defence had any prospect of success; (4) whether the Claimant should provide security for costs; (5) whether there should be a costs capping order


Held

(1) the words were incapable of meaning only that there were grounds to investigate the Claimant; the article went much further than that; (2) the Particulars of Justification would be substantially pruned in consequence to ensure that the matters relied upon were relevant and probative and consistent with the conduct and repetition rules; (3) the Reynolds defence had no prospect of success. In particular, the Defendants had failed to put the allegations sufficiently to the Claimant prior to publication; (4) £10,000 would be ordered by way of security; (5) as the Claim was not being brought on a CFA, there was no justification for a costs-capping order.


Comment

The ruling on meaning shows that <A
href=”http://www.5rb.com/casereports/detail_redirect.asp?case=114″ target=_parent>Chase Level 3 meanings are difficult to establish, particularly if there is no ongoing investigation. An article which attempts to set out the facts into which it is said there should be an investigation can well end up suggesting grounds to suspect or worse guilt. Eady J’s comments on the limits of admissible evidence under a Level 3 meaning – citing Sedley LJ in <A
href=”http://www.5rb.com/casereports/detail_redirect.asp?case=275″ target=_parent>Jameel – are worthy of note. The application for a costs-capping order – the first since <A
href=”http://www.5rb.com/casereports/detail_redirect.asp?case=74″ target=_parent>Musa King – was unsuccessful because, absent a CFA and facing a wealthy Claimant, the Defendants were adequately protected against any alleged extravagance by the Claimant by the usual retrospective assessment of costs.


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