Failure to investigate defamatory imputations fatal
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (Lords Clarke, Wilson, Sumption, Carnwath and Toulson) today handed down judgment in an appeal it heard in April of this year on Reynolds qualified privilege.
It allowed the appeal holding that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have overturned the first instance judge’s rejection of the defence.
Mr Pinard-Byrne is an accountant who audited the accounts of Oriental Hotel (Dominica) Limited (OHDL). OHDL was a company set up as part of Dominica’s economic citizenship programme, a programme to encourage foreign investment to pay for infrastructure developments including a hotel in return for citizenship, provided certain criteria were met.
The project failed for a variety of reasons and in 2002 he was accused by Mr Linton on the radio and in an article on a website of, amongst other things, permitting the publication of accounts for OHDL calculated to conceal from the public the ‘squandermania’ of the company and the fact that he was personally benefiting from the sale of passports. Mr Pinard-Byrne sued for libel.
At trial he was awarded EC$50,000 each against Mr Linton and another defendant and EC$10,000 against a third defendant. On appeal, the Court of Appeal of the Commonwealth of Dominica (part of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court) held that the publications were protected by Reynolds qualified privilege. Mr Pinard-Byrne was given leave to appeal that decision to the Privy Council.
The Privy Council held that whilst Mr Linton carried out some investigations into the citizenship programme there was no evidence that he investigated whether Mr Pinard-Byrne was guilty of the kind of wrong-doing alleged in the words complained of.
Following legislation passed by the Dominican parliament in July 2014, on 29 January 2015 it was announced that Dominica would become the fourth full member of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). On 6 March 2015, a ceremony was held to celebrate Dominica’s accession to the CCJ’s appellate jurisdiction.
The hearing can be watched here.
A 5RB case report can be found here.