Jameel & Another v Wall Street Journal Europe
Reference:  EWHC 37 (QB);  EMLR 196
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 20 Jan 2004
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Qualified Privilege - Reynolds defence
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Justin Rushbrooke KC (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners for the Claimants
The Defendant published an article in the Wall Street Journal Europe to the effect that the Saudi Arabian authorities were monitoring, at the US government’s request, certain bank accounts in connection with the actual or potential funding of terrorism. Accounts of the Abdul Latif Jameel Group were named as being on the list of such accounts. In an action brought by the main company in the Group and by its President, the Defendant contended that the publication was protected by Reynolds privilege and took issue with the Claimants’ meaning, which was at the ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ level. The jury by their findings of fact rejected much of the journalist’s account of his sources for the story and his attempt to verify it with the Claimants in advance of publication. Subject to the trial judge’s ruling on privilege, they awarded damages of £30,000 to the President and £10,000 to the company.
Whether the publication was protected by Reynolds privilege.
The defence of privilege failed. The jury’s findings of fact had made it look somewhat forlorn. Although the subject-matter of the article was of the plainest public interest there was no duty to publish an article in these terms, and the Defendant would be adequately protected by the defence of justification. Key factors were: the underlying imputations in the article were at the higher level of gravity; there was no public interest in naming names, given that, on the Defendant’s own account (a) the monitoring was supposed to be secret and (b) the US government had agreed not to name names in return for the Saudi government’s cooperation; there was no urgency such as to justify publishing the story without having given the Claimants a meaningful opportunity to comment, especially since the Defendant had published the same story on the previous day without naming names.
The Court of Appeal has given permission to appeal on the Judge’s application and interpretation of the Reynolds test (as well as on the ‘presumption of damage’ point taken by D in respect of the corporate claimant). One issue which will arise will be the interaction of Reynolds with the subsequent decision in Bonnick v Morris (in which the journalist was held not liable for an unintended ‘implied’ defamatory meaning).