Branson v Bower

Reference: [2001] EWCA Civ 791; [2001] EMLR 800

Court: Court of Appeal

Judge: Latham LJ & Sir Philip Otton

Date of judgment: 24 May 2001

Summary: Defamation - libel - fair comment - defendant publishing article about claimant's motives for bidding for National Lottery franchise - whether words complained of comment or statements of fact - judge ruling that words were comment

Appearances: Adrienne Page QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant)  James Price QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)  Godwin Busuttil (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Harbottle & Lewis for the Claimant

Facts

The claimant, the famous Virgin entrepreneur, sued in libel over an article in the Evening Standard which called into question his motives for making a bid to run the National Lottery. The defendant applied for a ruling that the words complained of were comment and not statements of fact. The judge so ruled. The claimant appealed.

Issue

Whether the words complained of were capable of amounting to or were statements of fact.

Held

Appeal dismissed. While assertions of motive were capable of amounting to statements of fact, whether they did or not depended on their exact context, and in the instant case, Eady J had come to the correct conclusion as regards their status.

Comment

Those contemplating suing in libel over words which might be said to be only capable of being an honest expression of opinion, face an uphill struggle.

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