Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  2 AC 127;  3 WLR 1010;  EMLR 1;  4 All ER 609
Court: House of Lords
Judge: Lords Nicholls, Steyn, Cooke, Hope and Hobhouse
Date of judgment: 28 Oct 1999
Defamation - libel - qualified privilege- newspaper publication concerning public figure engaged in political events- whether qualified privilege attached to all discussion of political matters- whether privilege attached to publication
Instructing Solicitors: Theodore Goddard for the Defendant
The Plaintiff, a prominent public figure in Ireland, began proceedings for defamation against the Defendants, the publishers of an article contained in the British mainland edition of a national newspaper. The publication related to the political crisis in Ireland in 1994 culiminating in the Plaintiff’s resignation as Taoiseach and the collapse of the Irish government. The Plaintiff claimed that the words bore the meaning that he had deliberately lied to mislead the Dial and his cabinet colleagues. The Defendants pleaded, inter alia, qualified privilege at common law. At the trial the jury returned a verdict in the Plaintiff’s favour and awarded the sum of 1p by way of damages. The Court of Appeal set aside the jury’s verdict and ordered a retrial on the grounds of misdirections to the jury. The Court also ruled that the defence of qualified privilege was not available. The Defendants appealed.
Whether the courts should recognise a generic qualified privilege encompassing the publication by a newspaper of political matters affecting the people of the United Kingdom.
The common law should not develop a new subject matter category of qualified privilege whereby the publication of all political information would attract qualified privilege whatever the circumstances, since that would fail to provide adequate protection for reputation, and it would be unsound in principle to distinguish political information from other matters of public concern; but that qualified privilege was available in respect of political information upon application of the established common law test of whether there had been a duty to publish the material to the intended recipients and whether they had had an interest in receiving it, taking into account all the circumstances of the publication including the nature, status and source of the material.
The House of Lords recognised for the first time that media publications can be protected by privilege providing they satisfy a test of public right to know and responsible journalism. Lord Nicholls set out ten non-exhaustive factors which would be considered when determining whether there was a duty- interest for media publications to the world at large.