Full case report

Monks v Warwick District Council

Reference [2009] EWHC 959 (QB)
Court Queens Bench Division

Judge Sharp J

Date of Judgment 7 May 2009


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Strike out – Meaning – Malice – Damages claim – General loss of custom and business – Amendments – Special damages – Exemplary damages – CPR r.3.1 – Summary judgment – Whether real prospect of success – CPR Part 24.2


Facts

A chartered surveyor, M, sued the local authority for publication of an email containing allegedly defamatory material, which had been sent to a newspaper journalist by the local authority’s press officer. M also sued for the republication of an extract of the email in a newspaper article.

M sought to amend the particulars of claim to add claims for special damages and exemplary damages. The local authority sought to strike out M’s claim in respect of the newspaper article, the allegation of malice and the claim for general loss of custom and business.


Issue

(1) Whether the Claimant could complain only of a very small portion of the article in order to advance a defamatory meaning which the article, as a whole, did not bear;
(2) Whether the plea of malice should be struck out; and
(3) Whether the claim for damages for general loss of business and/or special and exemplary damages should be struck out.


Held

Granting the local authority’s application and dismissing M’s:
(1) A claimant may not artificially select passages of an article in order to assert a defamatory meaning which, read in the context of the article as a whole, it does not bear. The claim in respect of the newspaper article was struck out, Charleston v News Group Newspapers applied.
(2) Particularly stringent requirements apply to pleading malice. Where malice is alleged against a corporate defendant it is necessary to provide particulars of individual(s) responsible for the publication and with the relevant malicious state of mind, Bray v Deutshe Bank AG applied. The plea was defective and would be struck out.
(3) In the absence of a claim in respect of the article, the claim for damages and special damages had no real prospect of success. There was no evidence of conduct giving rise to exemplary damages, as set out in Rookes v Barnard (No.1).


Comment

A clear warning to claimants on the difficulties of advancing malice pleas, particularly in relation to corporate defendants. Generalised and formulaic assertions are not permitted and particulars must be provided of the specific person or persons through whom it is intended to “fix the corporation with the necessary malicious intent”. Such an individual must not only have been responsible for the publication, but must also be shown to have had the requisite state of mind. Only then will a malice plea be considered by the court to be properly constructed and allowed to go forward.


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Instructing Solicitors

Mr Monks in person; Berrymans Lace Mawer for the Defendant