British Chiropractic Association v Dr Simon Singh: CA 1 Apr 2010

The defendant appealed against a ruling that the words in an article – ‘This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments’ – were statements of fact, and were not comment.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The statement was of one of his opinion, not an assertion of fact: ‘The critical question . . is whether its meaning includes one or more allegations of fact which are defamatory of the claimant, or whether the entirety of what it says about the claimant is comment (or, to adopt the term used by the European Court of Human Rights in its Article 10 jurisprudence, value-judgment).’ There were two distinct issues ‘was there any evidence to support the material claims? and secondly, if there was not, did the BCA’s personnel know this? ‘
The nature of the assertion as to the lack of evidence of efficacy was not one capable of conclusion either way and therefore was a matter of opinion: ‘the material words, however one represents or paraphrases their meaning, are in our judgment expressions of opinion. The opinion may be mistaken, but to allow the party which has been denounced on the basis of it to compel its author to prove in court what he has asserted by way of argument is to invite the court to become an Orwellian ministry of truth. ‘
‘Our decision does not seek to collapse or erode the general distinction between fact and comment: it seeks to relate the distinction to the subject-matter and context of the particular article and the dispute to which it relates. ‘ ‘Fair comment’ may have decayed to imprecision and ‘honest opinion’ now better reflects the realities.
Lord Judge said: ‘It may be said that the agreed pair of questions which the judge was asked to consider . . was based on a premise, inherent in our libel law, that a comment is as capable as an assertion of fact of being defamatory, and that what differ are the available defences; so that the first question has to be whether the words are defamatory even if they amount to no more than comment.. This case suggests that this may not always be the best approach, because the answer to the first question may stifle the answer to the second.’

Lord Judge, LCJ, Lord Neuberger MR, Sedley LJ
[2010] EWCA Civ 350, Times 23-Apr-2010, [2011] 1 WLR 133
England and Wales
Appeal fromBritish Chiropractic Association v Dr Singh QBD 7-May-2009
The claimant alleged defamation in the words ‘The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there . .
CitedSlim v Daily Telegraph Ltd CA 1968
Courts to Settle upon a single meaning if disputed
The ‘single meaning’ rule adopted in the law of defamation is in one sense highly artificial, given the range of meanings the impugned words sometimes bear. The law of defamation ‘has passed beyond redemption by the courts’. Where in a libel action . .
CitedUnderwager v Salter 1994
(United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit) Judge Easterbrook spoke of a defamation claim in a scientific dispute: ‘[Plaintiffs] cannot, by simply filing suit and crying ‘character assassination!’, silence those who hold divergent views, no . .
CitedBonnick v Morris, The Gleaner Company Ltd and Allen PC 17-Jun-2002
(Jamaica) The appellant sought damages from the respondent journalists in defamation. They had claimed qualified privilege. The words alleged to be defamatory were ambiguous.
Held: The publishers were protected by Reynolds privilege. The court . .
Leave to appealBritish Chiropractic Association v Singh CA 14-Oct-2009
The court heard a renewed application for leave to appeal against preliminary ruling in a cse of defamation brought by the Association against an author.
Held: Granted . .

Cited by:
CitedWatkins v Woolas QBD 5-Nov-2010
The petitioner said that in the course of the election campaign, the respondent Labour candidate had used illegal practices in the form of deliberately misleading and racially inflammatory material.
Held: The claim succeeded, and the election . .
CitedCook v Telegraph Media Group Ltd QBD 29-Mar-2011
The claimant, an MP, complained in defamation of the defendant’s description of his rejected expenses claim regarding an assistant’s charitable donation. The paper pleaded a Reynolds defence. The claimant said that when published the defendant knew . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.406673