Thomas v News Group Newspapers Ltd
Reference:  EWCA Civ 1233;  EMLR 78
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Lord Phillips MR, Jonathan Parker LJ & Lord Mustill
Date of judgment: 18 Jul 2001
Summary: Harassment - Protection from Harassment Act 1997 - Media - Freedom of Expression - Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights - Whether articles in newspaper could amount to harassment - Striking Out - CPR Part 3.4(2) - Summary Judgment - CPR Part 24
Desmond Browne QC - Leading Counsel (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Farrer & Co for the Defendant
The Claimant complained about articles appearing in the Sun newspaper. She contended that they amounted to harassment of her and were actionable under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The Defendants’ application to have the claim struck out or for summary judgment was dismissed. The Defendants appealed arguing that newspapers should not be under a burden of showing that articles were reasonable as that was contrary to freedom of speech.
Whether the articles were capable of amounting to harassment under the 1997 Act
In general, press criticism, even if robust, did not constitute unreasonable conduct and did not fall within the natural meaning of harassment. A claimant who did no more than allege that a series of articles caused distress was liable to be struck out as failing to disclose a claim of harassment. However, where facts did disclose a proper case of harassment, under s.1(3)(c) of the Act it was for the appellants to show that the motive for their conduct was reasonable. Reasonableness was dependent in each case upon the particular circumstances. Appeal dismissed.
“Press freedom was dented by two extraordinary rulings from the Court of Appeal last week… Whatever the merits of [Esther Thomas’s] case, the use of harassment legislation may now have serious ramifications for the press as a whole… Even if these claims fail at trial, the press will have the trouble of defending what was published and the expense of settling nuisance claims.”
(Joshua Rozenberg – Daily Telegraph, 26 July 2001)