Offer of Amends assessments in Guardian and News of the World cases
Mr Justice Eady has today handed down two judgments in separate cases involving assessments of compensation under the offer of amends procedure of the Defamation Act 1996.
Adding to the case law on the subject, the judgments are significant for shedding more light on the principles to be applied when using the procedure.
In the first case, Colonel Jonathan Campbell-James, was awarded £58,500 for an article in The Guardian which had wrongly suggested that he was linked to the atrocities committed at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The compensation awarded is the highest in any offer of amends case. The judge was critical of the newspaper’s response to the Claimant’s complaint and applied a 35% discount for use of the offer of amends procedure. The Guardian was ordered to pay the Claimant’s costs of the proceedings.
In the second, the judge awarded £9,000 to David Turner after he had been libelled in an article in The News of the World about ‘swinging’ and sex parties, which had featured a former wife of the Claimant. It was said that she had been introduced to the swinging scene by her husband (who was not named but identifiable to some readers) and that their marriage had broken up after he had pressured her to have sex with other men. In assessing the level of compensation, the Judge allowed for the limited publication, the matters advanced in mitigation under a Burstein plea and applied a discount of 40%.
Mr Turner’s victory may well turn out to be Pyrrhic. News of the World had made an offer of £10,000 in September 2004 followed by a payment into Court of £15,000 in October 2004. The Judge ordered the newspaper to pay the Claimant’s costs only up to the offer made in September. He ordered the Claimant to pay the newspaper’s costs from December 2004. It is likely that the deficit will swallow up the damages awarded to him by the Court.
In offer of amends cases the practice of the court is to fix a notional starting figure which would have been appropriate had there been a trial with no significant aggravating or mitigating factors, then to make a percentage reduction for the mitigation afforded by the use of the offer of amends regime. The amount of that deduction will depend on the circumstances and will vary from case to case.
- Army Officer wins £58,500 over Abu Ghraib libel – Daily Telegraph