Cleese v Clark & Associated Newspapers Limited

Reference: [2003] EWHC 137 (QB); [2004] EMLR 37

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Eady J

Date of judgment: 6 Feb 2003

Summary: Defamation- Libel - Offer of Amends Procedure- Hearing to assess compensation- Section 3(5) Defamation Act 1996 - Damages.

Appearances: Adrienne Page QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for the Defendants

Facts

John Cleese, the comedian, brought proceedings for libel over an article published in the Evening Standard on 11 April 2002 and written by the First Defendant, attacking his reputation and his part in a recent US television programme. The newspaper acknowledged that the article was unfair and made an offer of amends on 6 June which was accepted on 25 June. A correction was published on 23 July 2002, which included an apology in the body of the text but not the headline. The Claimant originally sought £30,000 but had indicated a willingness to accept a heavily discounted figure of £10,000 subject to a satisfactory apology, but no settlement was reached.

Issue

The amount of damages the Claimant should be awarded at an offer of amends hearing under s3(5) Defamation Act

Held

Where a judge was invited to decide the appropriate compensation under the offer of amends procedure, the same criteria as governed damages awarded in an action would apply. It was appropriate to hear evidence and submissions in the same way as in the course of a ‘damages only’ defamation trial and to apply the same rules of evidence. The offer of amends regime was predicated upon the parties’ willingness to negotiate meaningfully and to give and take, where necessary, in order to achieve a reasonable compensation as quickly and inexpensively as the circumstances permitted. It would be sensible for a meeting to take place without going straight to court for directions as though a contested hearing was inevitable. On the facts the major element in assessing compensation had to be the impact upon the Claimant’s feelings. It was unlikely his reptutation had been damaged. Overall, the court awarded £13,500.

Comment

This was the first hearing to assess damages under the offer of amends procedure and provides extremely useful guidance on how both side should conduct negotiations in order to avoid a hearing and the principles to be applied if a hearing is necessary.