Barnett v Crozier

Reference: [1987] 1 WLR 272

Court: Court of Appeal

Judge: Nourse and Ralph Gibson LJJ

Date of judgment: 11 Dec 1986

Summary:

Defamation - settlement with one of two defendants - statement in open court - objection by remaining defendant -discretion to permit

Appearances: Patrick Milmo QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Bindman & Partners for the first defendant; Richard C M Sykes for the Second Defendant

Facts

The plaintiff sued a journalist and publisher for libel in a letter published in the Spectator magazine. The plaintiff and publisher settled the claim between them but the journalist continued to defend the claim against him. He objected to the reading of an agreed statement in court prior to the trial of the claim against him on two grounds. He claimed it would prejudice the trial and that it defamed him. Tucker J approved the reading of the statement and the plaintiff appealed.

Issue

(1) What test the court should apply in deciding whether to permit an agreed statement to be read in court when a remaining defendant objected on grounds of defamation or possible prejudice to a fair trial (2) whether the judge’s exercise of his discretion was flawed.

Held

Dismissing the appeal, (1) a plaintiff who had settled a defamation claim should be allowed to make a statement in court unless good reasons were shown to refuse permission; (2) the judge should have regard to the interests of all the parties; (3) a risk of prejudice to a pending trial should affect the discretion only if it was a real rather than shadowy risk; if some risk appeared the judge should assess its seriousness, and the gravity of the threatened prejudice; (4) on the facts the judge was right to conclude that the statement would not have the slightest effect on the trial; (5) the risk of defamation did not justify refusing permission.

Comment

It is a rare for the court to refuse to give prompt effect to a settlement by upholding objections to a statement in court, on the application of an interested co-defendant or other third party. Here, the court declined to apply the standard set by the Contempt of Court Act 1981, but the rule it established is similar. It seems unlikely that Article 6 ECHR will be held to call for a materially different approach.