Gillick v Brook Advisory Centres & Another (No.2)

Reference: 12/03/2002

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Gray J

Date of judgment: 12 Mar 2002

Summary: Defamation - Libel - Summary Disposal - s.8 Defamation Act 1996 - Determination of Meaning - Whether words complained of were defamatory

Appearances: Justin Rushbrooke QC (Claimant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Bindman & Partners for the Defendants

Facts

The Claimant, Victoria Gillick, complained that she had been defamed in a factsheet published by the Defendants which included the words “the legal case taken by Victoria Gillick in the early 1980s confused young people over their rights to confidential advice and deterred many from seeking contraceptive help … although the case concluded in 1985 in favour of young people’s rights, fear and uncertainty lingered on among teenagers and professionals working with them”. She contended that the meaning borne by those words was that she “was morally responsible for a 23 per cent increase in pregnancies among 15 to 19 year-olds during the 1980s”. The Court of Appeal, reversing Eady J, ruled that the meaning was capable of being defamatory of the Claimant. The Defendants, having abandoned their subsantive defences, applied for Summary Disposal.

Issue

(1) Whether the Claimant’s meaning was, in fact, defamatory; (2) If so, what relief should the Claimant be granted under s.8 Defamation Act 1996.

Held

(1) The words were not defamatory of the Claimant, as they did not suggest any culpability on her behalf. (2) Judgment granted for the Defendants.

Comment

As tribunal of fact under s.8, Gray J was able to determine the meaning. Although the Court of Appeal held that the words were capable of bearing a defamatory meaning, Gray J held that in fact they did not defame the Claimant. (Gray J has expressed doubt in Ferguson v Associated Newspapers Limited (15 March 2002) as to whether it is appropriate to use the s.8 procedure where there is a dispute as to meaning.) The Claimant appealed and the action settled before the appeal.