Reference:  EWHC 1542 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 22 Jun 2004
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Slander - Applications to strike out -Meaning - Justification - Fair comment - Reply to attack - Qualified privilege - Malice - Plea of general bad reputation
Instructing Solicitors: Pinkerfields for the Claimant; Clintons for the Defendant
The Claimants sued the Defendant over words published by him as the publicist of Nadine Milroy-Sloan. The statements were made following the arrests of the Claimants by police in respect of allegations by Miss Milroy-Sloan that the Second Claimant raped her and the First Claimant encouraged or participated in the assault. The allegations were wholly untrue and maliciously made and Miss Milroy-Sloan was later sentenced to three years imprisonment for perverting the course of justice. The Defendant admitted the publications but denied the meaning alleged, namely, that the allegations made by Miss Milroy-Sloan were true. He raised defences of justification (to a meaning of reasonable grounds to suspect guilt of the criminal offences alleged), fair comment and qualified privilege based on ‘reply to attack’. He also pleaded general bad reputation.
(1) Whether any of the publications complained of was capable of bearing the meaning that the allegations made by Miss Milroy-Sloan were true; (2) Whether any of the publications was capable of the lower meaning of reasonable grounds to suspect pleaded by the Defendant as Lucas Box meaning or whether they were in each case capable only of guilt; (3) Whether the Particulars of Justification were capable of supporting reasonable grounds to suspect, having regard to the repetition rule and the conduct rule; (4) Whether the defence of fair comment should be struck out on the basis that the words were fact not comment; (5) Whether the defence of qualified privilege should be struck out as unsustainable; (6) Whether the plea of general bad reputation should be struck out.
(1) The meaning of ‘guilt’ pleaded by the Claimants would not be struck out. The Court should only intervene at that stage to pre-empt perversity (Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe SPRL  EMLR 6).
(2) The Defendant’s Lucas-Box meaning would be struck out in the case of one publication only by virtue of the operation of the repetition rule. As to the remaining publications the Lucas-Box meaning could stand.
(3) None of the particulars of justification was capable of supporting reasonable grounds to suspect the Claimants of participating in the alleged rape: Musa King v Telegraph Group Ltd  EWCA Civ 613 at ; Shah v Standard Chartered Bank  QB 241.
(4) The defence of fair comment would be struck out as words were fact not comment.
(5) The defence of QP was sustainable and would not be struck out.
(6) The plea of general bad reputation would be struck out.
The judgment contains interesting discussions on the repetition rule, the conduct rule and fair comment post-Branson and affirms the roles of both judges and juries in libel actions in determining issues before trial.