Full case report

Jameel & Another v Wall Street Journal Europe (No.2) (HL)

Reference [2006] UKHL 44; [2007] 1 AC 359; [2006] 3 WLR 642; [2006] 4 All ER 1279; [2007] EMLR 14; (2007) Bus LR 291; (2006) HRLR 41; The Times, 12 October 2006; The Independent, 17 October 2006
Court House of Lords

Judge Lords Bingham of Cornhill, Hoffman, Hope of Craighead, Scott of Foscote, Baroness Hale of Richmond

Date of Judgment 11 Oct 2006


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Reynolds qualified privilege – Presumption of damage – Corporate claimants


Facts

The Defendant published an article in the Wall Street Journal Europe to the effect that the Saudi Arabian monetary authorities were monitoring, at the US government’s request, certain bank accounts in connection with the witting or unwitting funding of terrorism. The Abdul Latif Jameel Group was named as being on the list of such accounts. The main company in the Group and its President (Mohammed Jameel) sued for libel. The substantive defence was Reynolds qualified privilege. There was no plea of justification. At trial Eady J ruled that the plea of privilege failed. The Defendant appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal. The Defendant was granted permission to appeal by the House of Lords on two grounds: (1) the scope of the “responsible journalism” test in Reynolds defences, and (2) the application of the presumption of damage in defamation claims to corporate claimants.


Issue

(1) Was the article complained of protected by Reynolds privilege? (2) should a trading company which conducts no business in England and Wales be entitled to recover general damages for libel without pleading and proving that the publication complained of caused it special damage?


Held

(1) The privilege was upheld. The entire article had to be considered when determining whether the defamatory words were protected by privilege. It is not necessary to find a separate public interest justification for each item of information within the publication, but rather for the “thrust” of the article as a whole. Allowance must be made for editorial judgment. Whilst the majority preferred to continue to analyse Reynolds using the classic duty/interest model (albeit with a greater flexibility), the minority (Lord Hoffman and Baroness Hale) rejected this analysis as unhelpful and likely to lead to a “narrow and rigid approach which defeats its object”. All but Lord Bingham were content to find that the publication was privileged without a retrial. (2) The majority (Lords Bingham, Scott and Hope) held that a corporation may sue for libel without proving special damage.


Comment

This decision represents a notable victory for the newspaper and a powerful reaffirmation of the “liberalising intention” of Reynolds. With varying degrees of emphasis – the strongest being Lord Hoffmann who rejected it entirely – each of their Lordships disapproved the strict application of the classic duty/interest test to Reynolds cases in favour of a “practical and flexible” approach. The decision is also important for its recognition that allowance has to be made for editorial judgment and also that it is the publication as a whole that has to be assessed when considering the public interest rather than the publication of the particular defamatory allegations about which the Claimant complains.


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Instructing Solicitors

Carter-Ruck for the Claimants; Finers Stephens Innocent for the Defendants