Malik v Newspost Ltd & Ors
Reference:  EWHC 3063 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 19 Dec 2007
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Defences - Reynolds privilege- Public interest - Responsible journalism - Letter to editor - Whether letter writer could rely on Reynolds privilege
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Adam Wolanski QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)
Victoria Jolliffe (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Bindman & Partners for the Claimant, Fox Hayes for the Defendants
C, a Government minister, brought a libel claim in respect of a letter written by D3, a former Conservative councillor in which, C claimed, it was alleged that he had organised gangs of Asian youths to intimidate voters at a local election polling station. The allegations were repeated in an interview with D3 published the following week. The newspaper publisher, D1, and the editor, D2 were also sued. The Ds relied on Reynolds privilege, fair comment and justification. After a 2 week jury trial, the issue of privilege was decided by judge alone.
1) Had the Ds acted responsibly in publishing the letter?
2) Could D3, as a contributor rather than a journalist, rely on Reynolds privilege?
Holding that the defence was not available to the Ds:
Neither publication could remotely be classified as investigative journalism of the type Reynolds privilege was intended to protect, but in some circumstances the nature of the information itself and the public interest in receiving it might justify the protection of privilege, no matter the means by which the information is conveyed. Here the subject matter was clearly in the public interest. However, D3 was not reporting the allegations but asserting them directly and there was no authority to support the proposition that he could do so to the world at large without having to justify them. D1 and 2’s failure to take certain steps such as obtaining a response from C or making other corroborative checks was fatal to their reliance on any public interest defence.
Although the defence failed on the facts, the case confirms that reliance on Reynolds privilege is not confined to journalists or traditional investigative journalism. Depending on the facts, a letter writer or other contributor to a media publication could rely on the public interest-based protection.