Curistan v Times Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  EWHC 926 (QB);  1 WLR 126;  4 All ER 486; The Times, 10 May 2007
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Gray J
Date of judgment: 25 Apr 2007
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Meaning - Qualified Privilege - Preliminary Issue
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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 Defendant contended that the privilege defence should be ruled upon first and, if successful, the words should be struck out of the words complained of before the Court adjudicated on the meaning of the article.
(1) The proper approach in relation to adjudication on meaning where privilege was advanced in relation to part of the words complained of;
(2) The meaning of the article complained of; and
(3) Whether the words identified by the Defendant were protected by privilege as a fair and accurate report of the speech in Parliament.
(1) It was wrong in principle to approach meaning by removing the arguably privilege words from the assessment. The meaning of the article had to be assessed by reading the whole. If privilege were to be upheld in relation to the particular words sought to be protected by the Defendant, then this would be an exercise relevant only to the assessment of damages.
(2) The article alleged that the Claimant through his companies was associated with IRA “dirty money” and was thereby guilty of IRA money-laundering and financial malpractice; and
(3) The privilege was upheld. The words identified by the Defendant were a fair and accurate report of the MP’s remarks. The privilege was not lost because the Defendant had reported extraneous material. The additional parts of the article were connected with but extricable from the rest of the article.
The issue in this case is the extent to which a newspaper which adds further material to what would otherwise be a privileged report risks losing the defence. In Dingle v Associated Newspapers Ltd  AC 371, 411 Lord Denning famously observed: “… if [the newspaper] adds its own spice and prints a story to the same effect as the parliamentary paper, and garnishes it and embellishes it with circumstantial detail, it goes beyond the privilege and becomes subject to the general law. None of its story on that occasion is privileged. It has ‘put meat on the bones’ and must answer for the whole joint.” The extent to which a newspaper which does add “meat on the bones” can nevertheless retain privilege for the “bones” is relatively unexplored in authorities.