Full case report

Radu v Houston & Another (No.3)

Reference [2007] EWHC 2735 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Eady J

Date of Judgment 23 Nov 2007


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Trial of a preliminary issue – Whether article protected by qualified privilege – Reportage – Reynolds privilege – Common interest privilege


Facts

C, a one time professional actor and now husband of Princess Margarita of Romania, sued D over an article published in Royalty Monthly in September 2004 entitled, ‘Scandal in Romania as Princess Margarita’s husband is branded an imposter’.

On 12 October 2007 Eady J ruled that the hearing of the trial on qualified privilege should be by judge alone and had already ruled that the article was defamatory of C to the effect that there was a very strong case against C that he was an imposter who had used his rank to deceive people into according him access to social circles and official roles and he had been an officer in the Romanian secret police under the Ceaucescu regime.


Issue

Whether the article was protected by qualified privilege either as (a) common interest privilege; (b) reportage; or (c) Reynolds responsible journalism.


Held

The subject-matter of the article as a whole, and the role of C within it, was of public interest.

It was not protected by reportage as it was not merely a report of a press conference. Some of the criticisms of C were not uttered at the conference there nor were attempts made to state C’s side of the argument: Roberts v Gable and Charman v Orion applied.

The journalism was not responsible. Some of the allegations came from a source that was not impartial; proper steps to verify the information were not taken; no comment was sought from C in the long period between the allegations being made and publication; and there was no urgency that meant that it was responsible not to have sought comment or verify the allegations. Reynolds therefore failed and common interest privilege could not stand alone


Comment

The defences failed on unsurprising grounds. The D appeared to have had plenty of time to have sought to verify the allegations and put them to C before publication but did not do so. Even after Jameel v WSJ the failure to approach a claimant for comment is likely to be regarded as a signifcant departure from the standards of responsible journalism in most cases.


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Instructing Solicitors

Carter-Ruck for the Claimant; Blake Lapthorn Tarlo Lyons for the Defendants