Curistan v Times Newspapers Ltd (CA)
Reference:  EWCA Civ 432; The Times, 6 May 2008
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Lord Phillips CJ, Laws & Arden LJJ
Date of judgment: 30 Apr 2008
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Meaning - Qualified privilege - Repetition rule - Single-meaning rule - Preliminary issue
Download: Download this judgment
Alexandra Marzec (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Schillings for the Claimant; Times Legal Department for the Defendant
The Claimant brought libel proceedings against the Sunday Times over an article that he alleged claimed he was guilty of involvement in money-laundering for the IRA and other financial malpractice. The Defendant relied upon defences of justification (of a Chase Level 2 meaning) and qualified privilege. The privilege defence sought protection of part of the article on the basis that it was a fair and accurate report of what had been said in Parliament during a speech by an MP. At the trial of preliminary issues of meaning and privilege, the Judge ruled that although some of the article was protected by qualified privilege, the meaning of the remainder of the article, applying the repetition rule, was a Chase Level 1 meaning of guilt. The Defendant appealed the ruling on meaning and the Claimant appealed the ruling on privilege.
(1) Whether the words identified by the Defendant were protected by privilege as a fair and accurate report of the speech in Parliament.
(2) Whether the meaning of the non-privileged parts of the article should be found by applying the single-meaning and the repetition rules to the allegations of the MP in the context of the article as a whole; and
(3) Whether the non-privileged words bore a Chase Level 1 or Level 2 meaning.
(1) The Judge was correct to rule that part of the article was protected by qualified privilege as a fair and accurate report of proceedings in Parliament;
(2) The judge had erred in applying the repetition rule to ascertain the meaning of the non-privileged parts of the article. To do so undermined the finding of privilege. The meaning of the article had to be determined with respect to the fact that part of the article had been found to be privileged and that required the repetition rule not to be applied to the MP’s reported remarks and an exception to the single-meaning rule was required; and
(3) The non-privileged words, in context, bore only a Chase Level 2 meaning.
The Court has ruled that when assessing a hybrid article, where part only is protected by qualified privilege, the repetition rule cannot be applied to assess the meaning of the non-privileged parts. The privileged parts of the article remain relevant to context. The ruling means that a hybrid article could have a different meaning depending on whether the privilege defence was upheld or not. Laws LJ recognised  that the decision meant that hybrid cases would represent exceptions to both the repetition and single-meaning rules, but that this was necessary because otherwise the report privilege would be nullified. In practice, the judgment means that in hybrid cases, any privilege defence would have to be determined before meaning can be ascertained. How that will be done in the context of an action to be tried by jury will have to be worked out by first instance judges.