Full case report

Seaga v Harper

Reference Appeal No 90 of 2006
Court Privy Council

Judge Lords Scott, Walker, Carswell and Neuberger and Sir Henry Brooke

Date of Judgment 30 Jan 2008


Summary

Defamation – Slander – Defences – Qualified privilege – Reynolds privilege – Statement by politician – Application of Reynolds privilege to non-media publication


Facts

S was Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition and H one of the Deputy Commissioners of Police. In a speech made at a public meeting attended by media representatives S referred to H as “an activist and a distinguished supporter of the ruling party”. The speech was republished in the press and on television and radio. H sued for slander. S admitted publication, but pleaded qualified privilege.

The trial judge applied the Reynolds test and held that the defence of qualified privilege failed, awarding damages of $3.5M. The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal in respect of damages and reduced the amount to $1.5M but dismissed the appeal on the question of liability, holding that the judge had been wrong in applying the Reynolds test but that the defence of qualified privilege was nevertheless not satisfied. Applying Panday v Gordon, S had failed to exercise the requisite degree of care.


Issue

Whether S’s publication was on an occasion of qualified privilege.


Held

Dismissing the appeal:

The protection of Reynolds privilege extends to any publications made by any person who publishes material of public interest in any medium, so long as the conditions framed by Lord Nicholls as being applicable to ‘responsible journalism’ are satisfied. However, applying the Reynolds principles, as the trial judge had found, S had not taken sufficient care to check the reliability of the information which he disseminated, and was therefore unable to rely upon the defence.


Comment

This judgment suggests that Reynolds privilege should extend to non-media publications, contrary to the Court of Appeal’s comments in Kearns v Bar Council, and a step further than Eady J considered in Malik v Newspost, where Reynolds privilege was argued for a media publication by a non-journalist. However, Reynolds will be of no assistance to those (such as the appellant in this case) who rely on information that does “not rise above mere rumour”.


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