April 23, 2008
Charity regulator reports privileged
Traditional common law qualified privilege extends to publication to the world at large
The High Court has today handed down a judgment confirming that a defence of qualified privilege is available to a Defendant who publishes material on its website providing it is under a duty to do so and the general public a corresponding interest in receiving it.
Eady J so held in entering summary judgment for the Charity Commission in respect of a report it had published on its website which was defamatory of the Claimant, a trustee in a charity which it was investigating. Holding that publication would “beyond question” attract qualified privilege, the court went on to rule that there was no evidence of malice fit to be left to a jury.
The case leaves open the role of Reynolds type privilege in such cases. The Privy Council has recently confirmed that Reynolds privilege can be relied on by non-media parties, such as the Defendant in Seaga v Harper. However, summary judgment is less likely to be available in such cases because of the need to examine the background to the publication. Relying on traditional common law privilege avoids the need for that, though cases where the requisite duty/interest can be established with respect to the general public are likely to be few and far between.