Privy Council Give Judgment in Defamation Case

On 15th January 2019, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) handed down judgment in the libel case of Nugent and another v Willers on appeal from the Isle of Man. The Board comprised Lady Hale, Lord Kerr, Lady Black, Lord Briggs, and Lord Kitchin.

The case concerned the discretionary extension of the one year limitation period within which a libel claim must be brought. The limitation period for defamation claims in the Isle of Man is also 12 months from the date of publication as it is in England and Wales.

This case will be of interest to practitioners because section 30A of the Isle of Man Limitation Act is in the same terms as the equivalent section in England & Wales – namely s.32A Limitation Act 1980  [Discretionary exclusion of time limit for actions for defamation or malicious falsehood.]

The publication in issue was a letter sent by the Appellants (the Defendants in the claim) to HMRC Isle of Man in  October 2009. The Respondent (the Claimant) did not become aware of until  4 years later when he received a copy of it in a response to a data protection subject access request he made in June 2013.

The Deemster at first instance exercised his discretion in favour of the Respondent Claimant to exclude the time limit under s.30A of the Isle of Man Limitation Act 1984 . This was upheld by the appellate court in the Isle of Man. The Appellants appealed to the JCPC. The case concerned the proper interpretation of the word “delay” in s.30A of the Isle of Man Limitation Act 1984.

The JCPC dismissed the appeal leaving the Respondent (the Claimant) with a live defamation claim. The JCPC concluded the Deemster had taken all relevant delay into account that in defamation cases where the Claimant becomes aware of the publication after the expiry of the limitation period, it is reasonable to take the view that the delay of greatest relevance is that which occurs after the Claimant becomes aware of the material facts.

5RB‘s Desmond Browne QC and Jacob Dean acted for the Appellants and Christina Michalos acted for the Respondent.

A full 5RB case report can be found here: Nugent v Willers 5RB Case Report.

The hearing which took place on 12th November 2018 can be watched online here.