Full case report

Greenaway and Williams v Poole

Reference [2003] EWHC 1735 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Jack J

Date of Judgment 21 Jul 2003


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Justification – Qualified Privilege – Malice – Elections – s.10 Defamation Act 1952 – Damages


Facts

In October 1998 the Defendant, then a councillor, published the ‘Shareshill Newsletter’ and in April 1999 the ‘Shareshill Election Special’ and ‘Saredon Election Special’, all of which contained numerous allegations of dishonesty, corruption and misappropriation on the part of the Claimants in relation to their roles in local politics. The first Claimant had been the clerk to the Shareshill Parish Council from 1974 until his resignation in 1999, and the second Claimant had been a member of the same council from 1980 until 6 May 1999 when she lost her seat in the elections with which the publications were concerned. The Defendant pleaded justification and qualified privilege.


Issue

(1) Whether the publications were justified;
(2) Whether published on occasions of qualified privilege; (3)Whether the Defendant had acted with malice.


Held

The Defendant had failed to justify nearly all of what he had published. In relation to one of the elections, the Defendant was a candidate and as such the occasion could not be privileged: s.10 Defamation Act 1952. Malice was made out against the Defendant. Although the libels had not been published nationally, they were serious and had been very prominent in the communities in which the Claimants lived and had caused them real damage. It was appropriate to award each £25,000 in damages.


Comment

The Judge’s interpretation of s.10 Defamation Act 1952 as disqualifying the publication from protection of qualified privilege is contrary to the earlier decision of Eady J in Donnelly & others v Young & another (unreported, 6 November 2001). s.10 prevents qualified privilege arising for election communications simply on the basis that they are election communications. It does not rule out the publication being an occasion of qualified privilege for some other reason. In light of the Judge’s conclusions on malice, however, this made no difference to the outcome of this case.


Instructing Solicitors

Robert Gamson for the Claimants; the Defendant in person.