Reference:  EWCA Civ 130
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Sir Anthony Clarke MR, Lord Justice Tuckey and Lord Justice Jacob
Date of judgment: 31 Jan 2008
Summary: Libel – Defamatory meaning - Whether words complained of capable of bearing pleaded meaning
Appearances: Alexandra Marzec (Respondent)
Instructing Solicitors: Osmond & Osmond for J; Farrer & Co for the Respondents
J claimed damages for libel based on words published on the front cover of a tabloid magazine, “Love It!” next to a photograph of J. The words were: “BB’s Lisa ‘The Geezer’ My fake boobs fell out on date with James Hewitt”. J’s case was that those words meant, in their natural and ordinary meaning and/or by way of innuendo, that she was “in truth a man posing as a women, alternatively that [J] is a transgendered or transsexual person, who was born a man but had become a woman”. Eady J struck out the meaning, and therefore the claim, on the basis that the words were not capable of bearing the pleaded meaning. J appealed.
Whether the words complained of were capable of bearing the meaning pleaded by J
The words complained of were not capable of bearing the pleaded meaning, either in their natural and ordinary meaning or by way of innuendo.
This was a straightforward appeal applying well-established principles as to the determination of the meaning of words. Of interest is the Court’s disapproval of the comment of Sedley LJ in his written leave to appeal that meaning was a matter for a jury, “especially in matters of demotic and popular culture”. The Master of the Rolls, in giving judgment, held that this was not right: it was the judge’s duty in every case to decide whether the words were capable of bearing the defamatory meaning alleged. There is, therefore, no room for the argument (which had not, in fact, been made by J) that judges should be more hesitant in striking out meanings where the words are published in popular literature, or use colloquial or ‘slangy’ language.