Full case report

Westcott v Westcott

Reference [2007] EWHC 2501 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Richard Parkes QC (sitting as a Deputy Judge)

Date of Judgment 30 Oct 2007


Summary

Defamation – Libel – Slander – Defences – Absolute privilege – Complaints to police


Facts

C was a Justice of the Peace. D was married to C’s son, though the marriage had broken down. After a visit to C’s home, D alleged to the police orally, and later in a written statement, that C had attacked her and her baby son, hitting her at least seven times and the baby at least twice.

C brought proceedings for libel and slander. D pleaded defences of justification and absolute, alternatively qualified, privilege. C admitted qualified privilege but pleaded malice in reply. The parties agreed that the question of absolute privilege should be determined as a preliminary issue.


Issue

Whether D’s publications to the police were published on occasions of absolute privilege.


Held

The publications were published on occasions of absolute privilege and the claim was struck out. Following Buckley v Dalziel, D’s written statement to the police was protected by absolute privilege and immunity from suit. It followed that her initial oral statement was also protected, for otherwise the object of the protection of the later written statement would be wholly undermined and could easily be outflanked and rendered of little use.


Comment

The position in defamation of complainants to the police had been uncertain for many years, with Gatley on Libel and Slander stating that they have “traditionally” only been protected by qualified privilege. The question has now been addressed twice by the High Court in six months, with the result that both written and oral statements by complainants are now protected by absolute privilege.


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Instructing Solicitors

John Stallard & Co for C; BP Collins for D


Links

JP fears assault claim hit reputation - Telegraph
Magistrate's libel bid thrown out - BBC