Loutchansky v Times Newspapers Ltd and others (No. 7)

Reference: [2002] EWHC 2490 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Gray J

Date of judgment: 26 Nov 2002

Summary: Defamation - Libel - Qualified privilege - Reconsideration of original decision on qualified privilege following the Court of Appeal's decision ([2002] QB 783)

Appearances: Desmond Browne QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Olswang for the Claimant; Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for the Defendant

Facts

The Claimant sued on two Times articles alleging that he was a mafia boss linked to money-laundering whose company, Nordex, was associated with Russian criminal activity and the smuggling of nuclear weapons. The Defendants did not justify but pleaded Reynolds qualified privilege. A jury was empanelled to decide the primary facts relevant to the defence, and Gray J ruled on the basis of those answers. The Court of Appeal allowed the Defendants’ appeal against Gray J’s first ruling, holding that he applied too stringent a test. Gray J now reconsidered his original decision in the light of the Court of Appeal’s assertion of the test of responsible journalism.

Issue

Whether the Defendants, in publishing the two articles, had satisfied the test of responsible journalism.

Held

That the articles were not protected by Reynolds qualified privilege. The criminal activities alleged in the first article were matters of public concern, but given the seriousness of the allegations a proportionate degree of responsibility was required of the journalist and editor before publishing, and that had not been shown, particularly because of the lack of effort to contact the Claimant before publication. The second article was not a matter of public concern, and no attempt was made to verify or corroborate the central charge.

Comment

This was an unsurprising result. It was never likely that Gray J would conclude, on reconsideration of the evidence, that the Defendants, burdened as they were by the failure to contact the Claimant, had satisfied the test of responsible journalism even as far as the first article was concerned; and the second raised even greater difficulties.