Charman v Orion Publishing Group & others (No.3) (CA)

Reference: [2007] EWCA Civ 972; [2008] 1 AllER 750

Court: Court of Appeal

Judge: Ward, Sedley, and Hooper LLJ

Date of judgment: 11 Oct 2007

Summary: Defamation - Libel - Qualified Privilege - Responsible journalism and authorship- Fair and accurate court reports - Reportage- Whether book protected by qualified privilege at common law

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Appearances: Adrienne Page QC - Leading Counsel (Appellant)  Adam Speker (Appellant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Wiggin LLP for the Appellants; Simons Muirhead Burton for the Respondent

Facts

C was a police officer in the Metropolitan Police. He sought damages for libel in respect of allegations made in both the hardback and paperback versions of a book entitled ‘Bent Coppers’. In June 2005 C successfully applied for trial by judge alone and for meaning to be tried as a preliminary issue. At a later hearing the Judge ruled that the words meant that there were cogent grounds to suspect C of corruption. Gray J then heard and determined the defences of qualified privilege and rejected them. The Ds appealed.

Issue

(1) Whether the Judge was correct to rule that the book was not published on an occasion of qualified privilege at common law as re-formulated by the House of Lords in Reynolds v Times Newspapers;

(2) Whether the Judge was correct to rule that relevant passages of the book was not published on an occasion of qualified privilege pursuant to section 15(1) and Part 1(2) of Schedule 1 to the Defamation Act 1996 being a fair and accurate report of legal proceedings.

Held

Allowing the appeal:

(1) The Judge erred in his approach and application of Reynolds privilege. Although the books were not capable of being protected as reportage, the work was entirely responsible journalism. A responsible journalist was well entitled, on the material available to the author, Graeme McLagan, to tell the public that there were cogent grounds to suspect that C abused his position as a police officer by colluding in the commission of a substantial fraud with Brennan from whom C and his partner received corrupt payments totaling £50,000: Reynolds v Times Newspapers and Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe applied.

(2) The report of the Brennan trial was fair and accurate.

Comment

This judgment further elucidates the parameters of the reportage defence following the earlier judgment of Roberts v Gable, although much probably remains to be resolved about the precise ambit and application of this defence.

As for Reynolds, the decision is the first since the restatement of the law in Jameel and will be welcomed by the media as a vindication for serious journalism.