BNP Candidate Loses Libel Action

Jury finds Lib Dem pamphlet was honest comment

A High Court jury today found that an election pamphlet produced on behalf of a Liberal Democrat candidate, Mark Morris, which criticised a BNP candidate, Mary Culnane, was not libellous of her.

During a by-election campaign in the Downham ward in the London Borough of Lewisham in November 2002 the Liberal Democrat candidate, Mark Morris and his agent, Vijay Naidu, published, as part of an election pamphlet, an article about the BNP and its leadership entitled ‘Don’t be fooled by the BNP.’ The article listed facts about the BNP leadership and asked whether ‘this was the kind of person you want as your elected councillor?’

A year later Mrs Culnane sued Mr Morris and Mr Naidu alleging that the pamphlet libelled her.

The jury found that the article did refer to her and was defamatory of her but was an honest comment on a matter of public interest. They also found that Mark Morris was not malicious.

Mrs Culnane was ordered to pay the Defendants’ costs, estimated at around £87,000 and was directed to pay £25,000 on account of those costs within 28 days.

At the pre-trial review Eady J had ruled that section 10 of the Defamation Act 1952 needed to be re-assessed in light of the Human Rights Act 1998 and did not preclude candidates from relying upon a defence of qualified privilege if the ingredients recognised at common law were present on the facts of the case. Following the jury’s decision Eady J did not consider it necessary to rule on the QP defence considering that it would be academic to do so.

Click here for the 5RB case report of the PTR ruling. 

5RB‘s Sara Mansoori (instructed by Wragge & Co) acted for the Defendants, Mark Morris and Vijay Naidu.