Full case report
Best v Charter Medical of England Ltd
Reference  EWCA Civ 1588;  EMLR 335
Court Court of Appeal
Judge Peter Gibson, Robert Walker & Keene LJJ
Date of Judgment 26 Oct 2001
Defamation – Slander – Requirement to set out precise words used in Particulars of Claim – Whether Claimant had pleaded words with sufficient precision – Whether Claimant could seek further information from the Defendant as to the precise words used – CPR Part 53 PD 2.4
The Claimant brought slander proceedings claiming that on nine occasions he had been the subject of defamatory remarks by the Defendant. The Claimant could not set out precisely what had been said, as he had not been present, but he could plead the gist of what had been said from what he had learned subsequently. The Defendant applied to strike out the claim on the ground that without specifying the precise words used, the Claimant’s claim did not disclose a proper cause of action. The Claimant contended that it was sufficient to plead the nature of the defamatory remarks and to proceed to seek further information about the precise words from the Defendant.
What degree of precision was needed in relation to the setting out of the words complained of in order to disclose a cause of action in slander.
(1) In most cases of alleged slander, the Claimant must set out the words alleged to have been spoken in the Particulars of Claim with reasonable certainty – CPR Part 53 PD 2.4 considered; British Data Management plc -v- Boxer Commercial Removals plc  EMLR 349 and Collins v Jones  1 QB 564 applied
(2) It was not sufficient to plead that the Defendant had made a statement “to the effect” of some defamatory meaning. Rosen v Alberta Motor Association Co (1994) 1 WWR 719 considered.
(3) The only exception to this strict rule was where a Claimant could satisfy the Court that the Defendant had on a specific occasion uttered a defamatory statement about the Claimant of a particular nature. If so, then the Claimant could show that he was not fishing and his claim would be allowed to proceed to the stage where he could seek further information from the Defendant about the precise words used. British Data Management (above) applied.
The case underlines the importance the Court attaches to the need for precision in the pleading of slander claims. Although CPR Part 53 PD 2.4 seemed to permit a degree of flexibility by stating that a Claimant should set out the words complained of “so far as possible”, the Court of Appeal held that the circumstances in which a Claimant will be excused a lack of precision will be rare indeed.
Wiggin & Co for the Claimants; Le Brasseur J. Tickle for the Defendant
More from 5RB
5RB is the pre-eminent set in the area for handling defamation, privacy, contempt and data protection matters. Interviewees praise the set for having great depth and quality of counsel, and note that it boasts many of the top barristers in the field. Get the lowdown here.
New 22nd Edition of Clerk & Lindsell on Torts, published by Sweet & Maxwell. Further info here.