Reference:  EWCA Civ 1186;  EMLR 233
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Hirst, Waite & Roch LJJ
Date of judgment: 12 Dec 1996
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Quantum of damages - whether award was excessive
Instructing Solicitors: Davenport Lyons for the Defendant/Appellant
The defendant published in the Sunday Mirror articles alleging (a) that the Claimant acted as a pimp in Moscow, and (b) that he had thus exposed British businessmen to the risk of blackmail by Russian security forces. The Claimant sued for libel, and the Defendant pleaded justification. At the trial the judge ruled that there was no evidence to support justification of the second meaning. The jury awarded the claimant £115,000, including special damages of £15,000 for loss of earning capacity. The Defendants appealed against the award of general damages. Complaints of misdirection were withdrawn in the course of the appeal, which ultimately rested on the proposition that the award was manifestly excessive in the light of admissions which the Claimant had made, and incontrovertible evidence of association with prostitutes which any reasonable jury would have accepted.
Was the jury’s award of £100,000 in general damages manifestly excessive and disproportionate?
Reducing the award of general damages to £40,000:
(1) No reasonable jury could have done otherwise than to accept that the defendants’ plea of justification to the first meaning was made out in part. There was indisputable evidence of instances of pimping, in the form of tape recordings which the claimant admitted were of his conversations.
(2) In addition, the Claimant had admitted that he had a bad reputation.
(3) In the circumstances the award was more than was necessary to vindicate the Claimant’s reputation and should be reduced.
The jury’s award was so difficult to understand in the light of the evidence that the Court of Appeal was persuaded to intervene and, on one view, substitute its own view for that of the jury. Although the judge’s direction on damages was accepted on appeal to be beyond criticism, it is possible nonetheless that it was responsible for the surprisingly high figure fixed on by the jury. To illustrate the parameters within which an award might fall the judge had mentioned ‘A mansion in Mayfair …’ The award would have been 10% of such a figure, or less. It is unlikely that a direction of this kind would now be given.