Chase v News Group Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  EWCA Civ 1772;  EMLR 218
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Brooke, Rix & Keene LJJ
Date of judgment: 3 Dec 2002
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Human rights - Freedom of expression - Justification - Conduct rule - Repetition rule - Matters post-dating publication
Instructing Solicitors: Russell Jones & Walker for the Claimant. Daniel Taylor for the Defendant.
In libel proceedings brought by the Claimant, the Defendant had pleaded and particularised, in paragraph 12 of its Defence, a defence of justification. Paragraph 12 stated essentially that there were reasonable grounds for suspecting the Claimant of involvement in hastening the deaths of child patients. Eady J struck out paragraph 12, relying on the principles that (i) a defence of justification based upon reasonable grounds for suspicion must focus on some conduct of the individual giving rise to the suspicion (‘the conduct rule’); (ii) in such cases it is not permissible to rely on hearsay (‘the repetition rule’); and (iii) a defendant could not plead matters post-dating publication as supposed grounds.
Whether the three principles Eady J relied upon had been affected by the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998
There could be cases in which a defendant could rely upon matters not directly focusing upon the conduct of the claimant to justify reasonable suspicion. This was not such a case. The conduct rule did not upset the relationship between the media’s right to publish information and the right of individuals to protect their reputation. The repetition rule was not objectionable in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. The prohibition on relying on matters post-dating publication was not a disproportionate restriction on press freedom.
“I cannot see that the requirement of English law that a defence of justification based upon ‘reasonable grounds for suspicion’ must focus on some conduct of the individual claimant that itself gives rise to the suspicion… gets out of kilter the relationship between the right of the media to publish information and the right of an individual to the protection of his/her reputation. Nor can I see that the “repetition” rule… is objectionable on ECHR grounds, particularly when it is understood that appropriate use may be made of the Civil Evidence Act 1995. The prohibition on a defendant relying on events which occurred later than the occasion on which he/she said that there were at that time reasonable grounds for suspecting the claimant of serious crime is simply a consequence of the contents of the publication whose sting it is sought to justify. I do not see it as a disproportionate restriction on press freedom” – per Brooke LJ