House of Lords allows appeal in important restatement of the public interest privilege defence
The House of Lords today reversed the decision of Eady J and the Court of Appeal in Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe, in an important judgment on the scope and application of the journalists’ public interest defence.
The original article sued on appeared in the Wall Street Journal Europe and suggested that the Saudi Arabian monetary authorities were monitoring, at the US government’s request, certain bank accounts to prevent them being used wittingly or unwittingly for the funding of terrorism. The Abdul Latif Jameel Group was named as being on the list of such accounts. The main company in the Group and its President (Mohammed Jameel) sued for libel. The newspaper did not attempt to defend the truth of the allegation.
The libel action was tried in December 2003 before Mr Justice Eady. The judge rejected the defence of qualified privilege and the jury awarded total damages of £40,000. The Wall Street Journal’s appeal against the judgment and award of damages was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in February 2005. The newspaper was granted permission to appeal by the House of Lords on two grounds: (1) the scope of the “responsible journalism” test in Reynolds defences, and (2) the application of the presumption of damage in defamation claims to corporate claimants. Argument in the House of Lords was heard at the end of June this year
Lords Bingham of Cornhill, Hoffman, Hope of Craighead, Scott of Foscote and Baroness Hale of Richmond all agreed that Eady J and the CA had adopted too rigid an approach. By a majority they held that no retrial was needed in order to decide that the defence was made out. The speeches are notable for their emphasis on the flexibility of Reynolds and the respect to be given to editorial judgment.
By a majority (Lord Hoffman and Baroness Hale dissenting) the House of Lords rejected the contention that corporate claimants should have to prove financial loss in order to maintain a libel action.
The Claimants were represented in the Lords by 5RB’s James Price QC and Jacob Dean. Justin Rushbrooke (now back from sabbatical) acted at first instance and before the CA. They were instructed by Carter-Ruck.
Click here for the 5RB case report and full judgment.