Reference:  EWHC 2779 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Sharp J
Date of judgment: 6 Nov 2009
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Meaning - CPR PD 53 para 4.1 - Whether words complained capable of being defamatory
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Instructing Solicitors: Schillings for the Claimant; David Price for the Defendant
An application was made under CPR 53 Practice Direction para 4.1(1) to determine whether the words complained of were capable of being defamatory. The article complained of provided a quote from the Claimant stating that she was not a vegetarian and did not “have much time for people like the McCartneys and Annie Lennox”. The Claimant complained that this meant she was disrespectful and dismissive of them to the point of being willing to disparage them publicly for promoting vegetarianism.
Whether the words complained of were capable of being defamatory.
The threshold for the exclusion of meaning is a high one and the judge should not usurp the proper function of the jury. However, in this case, the words were simply not capable of lowering the Claimant in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally. A sector of the public may have thought less of the Claimant, but the test is whether the public generally would think less of her. The quote was merely represented a permissible view about an issue on which the Claimant was entitled to hold a strong opinion. The falsity of the quote was irrelevant for the purposes of meaning. The action was therefore struck out.
As Sharp J reiterated, there is no comprehensive definition in libel law of the word “defamatory”. The threshold test to be applied is whether the words are capable of lowering the Claimant’s standing in the eyes of the right-thinking public. Such a question can only be answered by looking at the words in their context and considering in accordance with the correct legal principles whether in the circumstances of the particular case they are capable of doing so.