Radu v Houston & Another (No.3) (CA)
Reference:  EWCA Civ 921;  EMLR 13
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: May LJ, Moore-Bick LJ, Lawrence Collins LJ
Date of judgment: 15 Jul 2008
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Reynolds privilege - Public interest - Obtaining comment - Gist of claimant's position
Instructing Solicitors: Carter-Ruck for the Claimant, Blake Lapthorn Tarlo Lyons for the Defendants.
The Claimant is married to Princess Margarita, daughter of ex-King Michael of Romania. The Ds were the editor and publisher of Royalty Monthly. The magazine reported a press conference which was arranged by a rival faction of the Romanian royal family in which the Claimant was branded an imposter and had been a member of the Romanian secret police during the Ceaucescu era. No contact was made with C pre-publication. Sources were, variously, from the rival camp or genealogists. C did not comment publicly on the allegations. The Judge held that the publication was not protected by Reynolds. On appeal D emphasised the editorial judgment that seeking comment would make no difference.
Whether the Judge had erred in dismissing the defence of Reynolds privilege.
Dismissing the appeal,
1. The judge had not approached Lord Nicholls’ ten factors from Reynolds v Times Newspapers (or any particular one of them) in a manner incompatible with the judgment of the House of Lords in Jameel v Wall Street Journal.
2. The Defendants were not entitled to rely on the editorial judgment that contacting the Claimant would have made no difference as an answer to the lack of balance in the article as a whole.
3. The judge had been entitled to conclude the article was one-sided and the failure to obtain comment significant (but not determinative).
Questions of law in Reynolds defences are heavily fact-dependent and pre-eminently a question of balancing several often-competing factors, an exercise of discretion best carried out by the trial judge. This decision also suggests that journalists should search elsewhere on the public record for comments and denials where a claimant has not been approached. Presumably, Romania having joined the EU on 1 January 2007, a claim of this nature brought now would also be defended on the basis of the reporting privilege afforded to public meetings in member states under s.15 of the Defamation Act 1996.