Cruddas Appeal allowed in part

Damages assessed at £50,000

On 17 March 2015 the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in Cruddas v (1) Calvert (2) Blake (3) Times Newspapers Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 171. Mr Cruddas had brought claims in libel and malicious falsehood in relation to three articles published in the Sunday Times, which were found by the court to bear three meanings. At trial Tugendhat J found for Mr Cruddas in relation to all three meanings in both libel and malicious falsehood, and awarded £180,000 in damages, and an injunction.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal in relation to the first meaning (the so-called “cash for access” meaning), finding that Mr Cruddas had acted “unacceptably, inappropriately and wrongly” in effectively saying that donors of large sums they would have the opportunity to influence Government policy, and gain unfair commercial advantage through confidential meetings with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers. The court dismissed the appeal in relation to the second and third meanings (the “illegal foreign donors” meanings), which it found the Defendants had not come close to justifying. The Court also upheld the finding that the journalists were malicious in relation to the second and third meanings. Damages were accordingly reduced to £50,000 with an injunction to remain in place in relation to the meanings found to be false.

The Court of Appeal had to tackle the issue of the single meaning rule in libel, not applying in malicious falsehood. The court had previously found that, although the first meaning was the correct meaning in defamation, some cynical readers might find the articles to bear a heightened meaning of criminal corruption – a meaning which it was accepted was not true. Although the journalists knew that some readers would understand the articles to bear this meaning, and that it was not true, the court found that this was not a proper basis for a finding of malice, and therefore liability in malicious falsehood. This result contrasts with the decision in Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe SAS v Asda Stores Ltd [2011] QB 497.

5RB’s Desmond Browne QC, Matthew Nicklin QC and Victoria Jolliffe acted for Mr Cruddas.

A full 5RB case report can be found here.