Full case report

Webster v British Gas Services Ltd

Reference [2003] EWHC 1188 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Tugendhat J

Date of Judgment 23 May 2003


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Slander – Qualified privilege – Malice – Malicious Falsehood – Summary judgment -Part 24


Facts

The Claimant installed a heating system in a flat. Shortly after the owner of the leasehold requested a maintenance contract with the Defendant for the system. One of the Defendant’s engineers inspected the system, following which the Defendant refused to enter into the maintenance contract, on the ground that the system failed to meet their minimum standards. The Claimant brought an action for slander on the basis of what the Defendant’s engineer had said concerning the system and an action for libel regarding a letter that the Defendant wrote to the Claimant. The Claimant also claimed malicious falsehood in relation to both the engineer’s words and the letter.


Issue

Whether there was any real prospect of the Claimant successfully resisting the Defendant’s claim of qualified privilege.


Held

The plea of malice had no prospect of success. Accordingly, the Claimant had no prospect of defeating the defence of qualified privilege, therefore the claim was bound to fail and there was no reason why the case should proceed to trial.


Comment

This was another case where a malice plea was summarily disposed of for failing to disclose a viable case. The Court reiterated that malice was a serious allegation tantamount to a plea of fraud.


Instructing Solicitors

Bar Pro Bono Unit for the Claimant. DLA for the Defendant.