Marks & Spencer plc v Granada Television Ltd

Reference: [1998] EWCA Civ 207

Court: Court of Appeal

Judge: Lord Bingham CJ, Swinton-Thomas & Mummery LJJ

Date of judgment: 11 Feb 1998

Summary: Defamation - Libel - Evidence - Hearsay - Civil Evidence Act 1968

Appearances: James Price QC (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Olswang for the Claimant

Facts

The Claimant sued the Defendant for libel over a World in Action programme broadcast in January 1996. The Claimant contended that the programme carried the meaning that it was knowingly exploiting child labour in order to boost its profits and was deceiving its customers by claiming its goods were made in the UK rather than abroad. The Defendant denied that the words were capable of bearing the meaning complained of and contended instead that the programme was true in a lesser meaning. The Claimant had taken statements from a number of illiterate, non-English speaking witnesses in Morocco through an interpreter who had written down their statements in Arabic. The statements had then been read back to the witnesses who had signed the written version. The Judge allowed the statements to stand as written rather than oral statements.

Issue

Whether it was correct to treat the statements as oral or written under Civil Evidence Act 1968.

Held

The statements were to be treated as made in a document rather than as oral statements. Ventouris v Mountain (No.2) [1992] 1 WLR 887 applied.

Comment

This is an interim decision from the pre-trial review. The case is more notable for Popplewell J’s decision to take a preliminary verdict on meaning from the jury at the commencement of the trial. At one stage it was thought that this practice might revolutionalise libel trials and it was even commended to practitioners by Hirst LJ in Shah v Standard Chartered Bank [1999] QB 241. However, perhaps because the jury in the case surprised everyone by rejecting the parties’ two meanings and coming up with a meaning of their own, the practice has never been repeated.

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