Foster & Another v Associated Newspapers Limited

Reference: [2002] EWHC 1885 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Gray J

Date of judgment: 13 Sep 2002

Summary: Defamation - Libel - meaning - justification - amendment - mode of trial - s.69 Supreme Court Act 1981 - adjournment of trial

Appearances: Jonathan Barnes (Claimant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Schillings for the Claimant

Facts

The Evening Standard alleged that Norman Foster and his architectural practice had been responsible for the use of the wrong stone during the construction of the South Portico at the British Museum. Shortly before trial the claimants sought to strike out one of the defendant’s Lucas-Box meanings and the defendant sought permission to amend its Defence and for the trial to take place by judge alone.

Issue

(1) Whether the Lucas-Box meaning would be struck out; (2) Whether the defendant would be granted permission to amend; (3) Mode of trial.

Held

(1) The Lucas-Box meaning to the effect that the claimants had been responsible for poor stonemasonry would be struck out since the article complained of was incapable of bearing that meaning, and it would in any event have been struck out on case management grounds since the thrust of the litigation concerned not workmanship but responsibilty for the use of the wrong stone. (2) Although the defendant’s application to amend came exceedingly late and without satisfactory explanation, the proposed amendments would be allowed to the extent they represented elaborations on the defendant’s existing case. (3) The nature and extent of the examination of documents that would be required was such that the trial could not conveniently take place with a jury. The trial date would be vacated to enable the claimants to prepare to meet the enlarged case against them.

Comment

Late amendments to a defence of justification can jeopardise a trial date. It should not always be assumed that they will be granted. Increasingly, the ethos of the CPR means that the Court will treat the loss of the trial date as a very significant matter counting against permission to amend. However, in defamation claims, there is usually a countervailing argument about false vindication – see e.g. Branson v Bower.