Blackshaw v Lord: CA 1984

Claim to privilege must be precisely focused

The Daily Telegraph carried an article headed ‘Incompetence at ministry cost pounds 52 million’ recording that a number of senior civil servants had been reprimanded after investigation by the Public Accounts Committee. The plaintiff had been in charge at the material time. It also stated that the plaintiff had resigned from the civil service. The article followed a press conference at which some of the evidence had been disclosed, and at which it was revealed that an unnamed senior department official in Scotland had been reprimanded. The name of the official concerned was said to have been subsequently divulged to the journalist (Mr Lord) by one of the department’s press officers (Mr Smith) on request. The defendant made a claim to a generic protection for a widely stated category of information, namely: ‘fair information on a matter of public interest’.
Held: A claim to privilege must be precisely focused. A publication must be in the public interest. Whether a publication is in the public interest or, in the conventional phraseology, whether there is a duty to publish to the intended recipients, the readers of the newspaper, depends upon the circumstances, including the nature of the matter published and its source or status. ‘There must be a duty to publish to the public at large and an interest in the public at large to receive the publication, and a section of the public is not enough.’
Stephenson LJ: ‘Where damaging facts have been ascertained to be true or being made the subject of report, there may be a duty to report them . . . provided the public interest is wide enough . . . But where damaging allegations or charges have been made and are still under investigation . . . or have been authoritatively refuted . . . there can be no duty to report them to the public.’
Dunn LJ, Stephenson LJ, Fox LJ
[1984] 1 QB 42, [1983] 2 All ER 311, [1983] 3 WLR 283
England and Wales
CitedGilpin v Fowler 9-Feb-1854
The word `privilege’ means the existence of a set of circumstances in which the presumption of malice was negatived. `Instead of the expression `privileged communication’ it would be more correct to say that the communication was made on an occasion . .
CitedPerera v Peiris PC 1949
Qualified privilege claim upheld
(Ceylon) The ‘Ceylon Daily News’ had published extracts from a report of the Bribery Commission which was critical of Dr. Perera’s lack of frankness in his evidence. The Judicial Committee upheld a claim to qualified privilege. In the light of the . .
CitedWebb v Times Publishing Co Ltd 1960
The Times newspaper published a report of the criminal trial in Switzerland of a British subject. When sued in defamation they sought to rely upon the defence of fair reporting of judicial proceedings.
Held: A blanket protection for reporting . .

Cited by:
CitedReynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd and others HL 28-Oct-1999
Fair Coment on Political Activities
The defendant newspaper had published articles wrongly accusing the claimant, the former Prime Minister of Ireland of duplicity. The paper now appealed, saying that it should have had available to it a defence of qualified privilege because of the . .
AppliedRiches v News Group Newspapers Ltd CA 20-Feb-1985
The defendant published serious defamatory allegations against several plaintiff police officers. The defendant newspaper appealed against an award of andpound;250,000 exemplary damages for their defamation of the respondent police officers.
CitedLoutchansky v Times Newspapers Limited (No 2) CA 12-Mar-2001
The defendants appealed against a refusal to allow them to amend their pleadings. They wished to include allegations as to matters which were unknown to the journalist at the time of publication.
Held: It is necessary for the defendants to . .
CitedGrobbelaar v News Group Newspapers Ltd and Another CA 18-Jan-2001
The claimant had been awarded andpound;85,000 damages in defamation after the defendant had wrongly accused him of cheating at football. The newspaper sought to appeal saying that the verdict was perverse and the defence of qualified privilege . .
CitedSeaga v Harper PC 30-Jan-2008
Public meeting gave no qualified privilege
(Jamaica) The appellant politician pleaded that his words about a senior policemen when spoken at a public meeting were protected from an action in slander by qualified privilege.
Held: The appeal failed. . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 21 May 2021; Ref: scu.194513