Full case report

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

Reference [2006] EWHC 1756 (QB); [2007] 1 All ER 622
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Gray J

Date of Judgment 13 Jul 2006


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Reynolds privilege – Responsible journalism – Fair and accurate reports – Reportage – Whether book protected by qualified privilege


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. The matter came before the Court to determine whether the Ds could rely upon defences of qualified privilege.


Issue

(1) Whether the books were published on an occasion of qualified privilege at common law as re-formulated by the House of Lords in Reynolds v Times Newspapers [2001] AC 127;

(2) Whether passages of the books were 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;

(3) Whether the relevant passages of the books were published on an occasion of qualified privilege pursuant to section 15(1) and Part 1(1) of Schedule 1 to the Defamation Act 1996 being a fair and accurate report of parliamentary proceedings in public;

(4) Whether in addition to the statutory defences the other words complained of were matters closely related to the proceedings which the public were entitled to know and therefore protected by qualified privilege at common law.


Held

(1) The public did not have a right to know the information in the books because on the basis of the objective meaning that there were cogent grounds to suspect C, there had been adoption of the allegations and the facts were not presented neutrally. That meant the defence of reportage failed. There had been no verification. Although D had made efforts to contact C, the objective meaning itself had not been put to him.  Reynolds privilege therefore also failed.

(2) The passages reporting on the Court case were accurate but were not fair to C and as such not protected by s.15 of the 1996 Act.

(3) C accepted that certain passages were a fair and accurate report of Parliamentary proceedings.

(4) The Court did not consider it was necessary to deal with this given (2) above.


Comment

Although the case establishes that, in theory, Reynolds can protect books, the defence failed in this case. The interrelation between reportage and Reynolds is likely to be an area that will need further development. It is not clear – on the current state of the law – whether reportage (under Al-Fagih) is an aspect of Reynolds protection or a free-standing basis on which to avoid liability.


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Instructing Solicitors

Simons Muirhead Burton for the Claimant; Wiggin LLP for the Defendants