Hedge dispute clarifies privilege

Complainants' police witness statements are protected by absolute privilege

Libel and slander claims brought by a woman against her neighbours were struck out by the High Court yesterday as Mr Justice Eady clarified the protection the law grants in respect of witness statements taken by the police.


The claimant, Barbara Buckley, had begun an action against her neighbours Melanie and Stewart Dalziel after they complained to the police that Mrs Buckley had authorised the pruning of trees and shrubbery on their property. Mrs Buckley was arrested but no charges were brought.


Mrs Buckley sued Mrs Dalziel in respect of several telephone calls to the police, and Mr Dalziel in respect of a witness statement he gave to the police shortly after the incident. The judge, Mr Justice Eady refused to allow the slander claim to proceed because it had been issued after the one-year limitation period had expired. Rejecting the claimant’s argument that malicious complainants should be given less protection than mere witnesses, the Judge held that communications published in a police witness statement as part of a criminal investigation are protected by absolute, rather than merely qualified, privilege.


Click here for the 5RB case report and full judgment


5RB‘s Victoria Jolliffe (instructed by DWF) acted for the Defendants.