Privy Council hears libel appeal

Board considers Reynolds defence

On Wednesday 22 April 2015, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (Lords Clarke, Wilson, Sumption, Carnwath and Toulson) heard what is expected to be its last appeal from the Commonwealth of Dominica, which concerned the common law “Reynolds Defence” in defamation.

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.

Before the Privy Council the Appellant contended that the Court of Appeal had set the standard of responsible journalism too low; that they had failed to conduct a proper examination of the evidence; had misunderstood the evidence; and had misapplied the law of Reynolds privilege to the facts of the case.

The Respondent maintained he had conducted a proper investigation by looking at the original company documents, and that he was acting in the public interest.

5RB‘s Adam Speker represented the Appellant, Kieron Pinard-Byrne; William Bennett appeared as amicus curiae; the Respondent, Lennox Linton, appeared in person.

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 Board reserved judgment.