Reference:  EWHC 3098 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 21 Dec 2007
Summary: Libel - Defences - Qualified privilege - Reply to attack - Fair Comment - Meaning - Malice
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Jacob Dean (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Hextalls for Blackwell; Carter-Ruck for Bates
Ken Bates, the Chairman of Leeds football club, was sued for libel by the former manager of Leeds, Kevin Blackwell, over comments published in The Sun newspaper about Blackwell’s conduct and competence as manager.
(1) Were the comments made by Bates on an occasion of qualified privilege by virtue of being a reply to an attack?
(2) Were the comments capable of being comment?
(3) Was the plea of malice sustainable?
(1) Bates’ comments could not properly be characterised as a response to an attack by Blackwell and the plea of qualified privilege was therefore struck out.
(2) The comments were capable of being comment.
(3) The plea of malice was unsustainable as the strong terms in which Bates made his comments were consistent with strength of feeling and sincerity of belief.
This case shows the willingness of the Court to take a robust approach at an early stage of the proceedings to unsustainable pleas of privilege and malice where there is no sustantial issue of fact for a jury to determine.