Williams v Reason

Reference: [1988] 1 WLR 96; [1988] 1 All ER 262

Court: Court of Appeal

Judge: Stephenson, O'Connor, Purchas LJJ

Date of judgment: 10 Nov 1983


Libel - Appeal - Justification - Wider meaning - Admissible Evidence

Instructing Solicitors: Richard Sykes for the Defendants; Davies Donovan & Co for the Claimant


A sports correspondent on a national newspaper published two articles that accused a well-known Welsh rugby international, JPR Williams, of abusing his amatuer status by writing a book for money. JPR sued for defamation. The particulars of Claim alleged that the Claimant was guilty of ‘shamatuerism’ (playing as an amateur when he was receiving payments or benefits). The Defendants pleaded justification and both parties put forward conflicting interpretations of the International Rugby Football Board’s regulations on amateurism. The latter issue was left to the jury to decide but the judge suggested that the Claimant’s interpretation was correct. The Defendants appealed.


Whether (1) a new trial should be ordered on the basis that the judge had misdirected the jury regarding the IRFB regulations; (2) leave should be given to adduce fresh evidence that the Claimant had accepted cash payments for wearing a manufacturer’s boots when playing, evidence which could have reasonably be obtained before trial and which the Claimant contended was inadmissible if used to justify the charge of abusing his amatuer status by writing a book for money.


Allowing the appeal; (i) Only in a clear case would a court allow an unsuccessful litigant to introduce fresh evidence that could, with reasonable diligence, have been introduced before trial. (ii) A new trial would be ordered because the judge had erred in ruling conclusively on the meaning of the IRFB regulations on amateurs and had interpreted the regulations incorrectly. At the new trial, parties could call any relevant admissible evidence that had not been called at the previous trial. (iii) A Defendant is entitled to introduce evidence of other facts capable of justifying defamatory words in a wider sense than as pleaded by the Claimant provided those words were capable of bearing the wider meaning. Notwithstanding the refusal of leave to call fresh evidence, the Defendants were entitled to call the boot money evidence at the new trial as it went to the sting of the libel, the allegation of shamateurism.


It can be difficult to determine the extent to which a specific charge of wrongdoing may be capable of bearing a wider meaning and cases do turn on their facts (cross-ref Bookbinder v Tebbit [1989] 1 WLR 640). The Defendants in Williams v Reason were represented by Charles Gray QC, now Mr Justice Gray, formerly a member of 5RB.