Reference:  EWHC 1830 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Tugendhat J
Date of judgment: 30 Jul 2003
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Absolute privilege - Qualified Privilege - Striking Out - Summary Judgment - whether publications in and to the Office of Supervision of Solicitors were covered by absolute privilege
Instructing Solicitors: The Claimant appeared in person. Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for the Defendant.
The claimant had instructed the defendant firm of solicitors to represent him in family proceedings. After some months the claimant disinstructed the defendant and subsequently made a complaint to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors. In responding to the OSS inquiry, the Defendant sent a letter which the claimant claimed was defamatory of him. The defendant relied on defences of absolute privilege or, in the alternative, qualified privilege. The defendant applied to dismiss the claimant’s claim on the basis that the publications were occasions of absolute privilege. The Master acceded to that application and the claimant appealed.
Whether the publications were on occasions of absolute privilege.
Under the Solicitors Act 1974, the OSS had the duty to enquire into a complaint as to whether the professional services provided by a solicitor had been of the quality which it was reasonable to expect. In discharging this role the OSS was acting in a like manner to a court and its procedures were designed to ensure compliance with the standards of fairness applicable to courts of law. There was no publication outside the OSS. In the circumstances, the claim to absolute privilege was bound to succeed and the claim would be dismissed.
Absolute privilege is traditionally narrowly constrained. This decision is probably about as far as its protection will stretch.