Charterhouse Clinical Research Unit Ltd v Richmond Pharmacology Ltd

Reference: [2003] EWHC 1099 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Morland J

Date of judgment: 2 May 2003


Defamation - Trade libel - Human rights - Freedom of expression - s.12(4) Human Rights Act 1998 - Art.10 European Convention on Human Rights

Instructing Solicitors: Allen & Overy for the Claimant. David Price Solicitors and Advocates for the Defendants.


The Claimant company claimed that a representative of the first Defendant company had libelled the Claimant in an email to the senior vice-president of Alza, a company with whom the Claimant was negotiating, by way of an innuendo meaning that the Claimant lacked the ability to provide the relevant services effectively as they had lost most of their staff to the first Defendant.


Whether the email, questioning the Claimant’s ability to perform a particular service, could amount to a libel of the Claimant personally.


The courts had a duty to restrict trade libel to its proper boundary, particularly in light of s.12(4) of the Human Rights Act 1998 and Art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ‘libel’ here was of the quality of a service, rather than of the provider of that service, and as such did not give rise to a claim in defamation – ICN Photonics Ltd v Patterson considered [2003] EWCA Civ 343. The claim was dismissed.


This is another example of a trade libel claim failing to disclose a personal imputation against the manufacturer/service provider, but is interesting because of Morland J’s insistence that the law of defamation must be kept within its proper limits. He adopted a similar approach in O’Shea v MGN Ltd [2001] EMLR 943.