GKR Karate v Yorkshire Post Ltd (No 2)
Reference:  EWHC 180 (QB);  EMLR 410
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Sir Oliver Popplewell
Date of judgment: 17 Jan 2000
Summary: Defamation - libel - qualified privilege - Reynolds - information from sports governing body - trial of preliminary issue - whether article complained of protected by qualified privilege
Instructing Solicitors: Farrer & Co for the Claimant
The Claimants sued a regional newspaper for libel over an article reporting allegations made by a UK karate governing body, portraying the Claimants as a disreputable organisation preying on the public by promoting karate classes for children run by unqualified tutors, through high-pressure and deceptive door-to-door salesmanship. The Defendant relied on defences of Reynolds qualified privilege, and justification. In response to the plea of privilege the Claimants alleged malice. The issues of qualified privilege and malice were ordered to be tried as preliminary issues, before a judge and jury.
Whether the article complained of was protected by ‘Reynolds’ qualified privilege.
The article was protected by privilege. The Defendants’ source appeared to be authoritative and knowledgeable and the information provided, assuming it was true, justified the publication as a warning to the public in the area of the newspaper’s circulation. Although the journalist had fallen short of reasonable standards in some respects, the legitimate criticisms which could be made of her did not outweigh the legitimate interest of the public in receiving the publication.
This was the first case on Reynolds privilege to reach a trial. Striking features of the case are that the source organisation had not conducted any formal inquiry, publication of the results of which might have attracted statutory privilege. It had not sought a response from the claimant. For her part the journalist made no independent enquiries and did little to seek comment. She made only one call to the Claimant, and published without waiting for a reply. For these reasons in particular, commentators have doubted the correctness of the decision, and it has since been distinguished rather than applied. GKR remains one of a handful of cases where a Reynolds defence has been upheld. Given the emphasis in Reynolds itself on the need to verify, it is odd to note that the common feature of these cases (GKR, Al Fagih, Lukowiak) is that in none was there any investigation of the underlying truth of the allegations.