Full case report

Wall Street Journal Europe Sprl v UK (Admissibility)

Reference Application no. 28577/05
Court European Court of Human Rights

Date of Judgment 10 Feb 2009


Summary

Human rights – Admissibility – Freedom of expression – Article 10, European Convention on Human Rights – Fair trial – Article 6, European Convention on Human Rights – Defamation – Reynolds privilege – Jury directions – Presumption of falsity – Meaning


Facts

The WSJE published an article to the effect that the Saudi Arabian monetary authorities were monitoring, at the US government’s request, certain bank accounts in connection with the funding of terrorism. The Abdul Latif Jameel Group was named. The main company in the Group and its President sued for libel. The only substantive defence was Reynolds qualified privilege. At trial Eady J refused a request by both counsel that the jury be asked to indicate what meaning the words bore, and applied the traditional presumption of falsity to defamatory allegations. On the basis of the jury’s findings of fact, he ruled that the plea of privilege failed. The WSJE appealed and was successful in the House of Lords .

The WSJE complained that the refusal to ask the jury for a finding on meaning and the application of the presumption of falsity violated its rights under Articles 6 and 10.


Issue

Whether the complaints were admissible


Held

Declaring the complaints inadmissible:
The presumption of falsity in the context of justification is generally compatible with Article 10. However, different considerations must apply where the defamatory factual statements are derived from a source that could reasonably be relied on and where the other circumstances are such that the publisher can properly be exempted from its obligation to verify factual defamatory allegations. Here, the application of the presumption of falsity by the trial judge was criticised by the Court of Appeal and was ultimately rectified by the House of Lords, where its appeal was successful. As such, the WSJE could not claim to be a victim of any violation of its rights.


Comment

Both the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords had made clear that the presumption of falsity is not relevant to Reynolds privilege and juries should not be directed in respect of it where that is the only defence. In such circumstances the truth or falsity of the allegations is “a neutral circumstance.”


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