Stallwood & Stallwood v Smith

Reference: 01/07/2003

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Tugendhat J

Date of judgment: 1 Jul 2003

Summary: Defamation- Libel - Qualified Privilege- Summary Judgment-Part 24- Whether pre-action correspondence between a prospective litigant and a solicitor are protected by qualified privilege

Appearances: Adam Speker (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Lloyd Barnes for the Defendant

Facts

The Claimants owned property next door to the Defendant. They sued the Defendant in respect of allegations in three out of four letters written by the Defendant to the Claimant’s solicitor in the course of pre-action correspondence about a boundary dispute between the parties.

Issue

Whether the publications were protected by qualified privilege.

Held

Entering summary judgment on this issue for the Defendant. The letters were protected by qualified privilege. The Defendant plainly had a legitimate interest in writing the letters and the solicitor had a legitimate interest in receiving them. If there were any irrelevant matters in the letters that was an issue which went to malice: Horrocks v Lowe [1975] AC 135, applied and Lillie & Reed v Newcastle City Council and others [2002] EWHC 1600 (QB) at [1089] followed.

Comment

This is a classic ‘off the peg’ privilege. The only surprise is that there is not more authority on the matter.