Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers Ltd and Others: HL 18 Feb 1993

Local Council may not Sue in Defamation

Local Authorities must be open to criticism as political and administrative bodies, and so cannot be allowed to sue in defamation. Such a right would operate as ‘a chill factor’ on free speech. Freedom of speech was the underlying value which supported the decision to lay down the specific rule that a local authority could not sue for libel. The same disability does not apply to the authority’s individual members: ‘The authorities cited above clearly establish that a trading corporation is entitled to sue in respect of defamatory matters which can be seen as having a tendency to damage it in the way of its business. Examples are those that go to credit such as might deter banks from lending to it, or to the conditions experienced by its employees, which might impede the recruitment of the best qualified workers, or make people reluctant to deal with it. The South Hetton Coal Co case [1894] 1 QB 133 would appear to be an instance of the latter kind, and not, as suggested by Browne J, an authority for the view that a trading corporation can sue for something that does not affect it adversely in the way of its business. The trade union cases are understandable upon the view that defamatory matter may adversely affect the union’s ability to keep its members or attract new ones or to maintain a convincing attitude towards employers. Likewise in the case of a charitable organisation the effect may be to discourage subscribers or otherwise impair its ability to carry on its charitable objects. Similar considerations can no doubt be advanced in connection with the position of a local authority. Defamatory statements might make it more difficult to borrow or to attract suitable staff and thus affect adversely the efficient carrying out of its functions.’
As to article 10: ‘As regards the words ‘necessary in a democratic society’ in connection with the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression which may properly be prescribed by law, the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights has established that ‘necessary’ requires the existence of a pressing social need, and that the restrictions should be no more than is proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.’ (Lord Keith of Kinkel)

Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Griffiths, Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, Lord Woolf
Gazette 07-Apr-1993, [1993] AC 534, [1993] UKHL 18, [1992] UKHL 6, [1992] QB 770, [1992] 3 WLR 28, [1993] 1 All ER 1011
Bailii, Bailii
European Convention on Human Rights 10
England and Wales
Appeal fromDerbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers Ltd and Others CA 19-Apr-1992
In two issues of ‘The Sunday Times’ newspaper on 17 and 24 September 1989 there appeared articles concerning share deals involving the superannuation fund of the Derbyshire County Council. The articles in the issue of 17 September were headed . .
ApprovedAttorney-General v Guardian Newspapers Ltd (No 2) (‘Spycatcher’) HL 13-Oct-1988
Loss of Confidentiality Protection – public domain
A retired secret service employee sought to publish his memoirs from Australia. The British government sought to restrain publication there, and the defendants sought to report those proceedings, which would involve publication of the allegations . .
At First InstanceDerbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers Ltd and Others QBD 1991
The defendant published articles suggesting links between the Council and certain businessmen. The Council sued in defamation. The defendant argued that a local authority should not be able to sue for defamation.
Held: Applying South Hetton, . .
CitedSouth Hetton Coal Company Ltd v North Eastern News Association Limited CA 1894
The plaintiff company sued for defamation in respect of an article which alleged that it neglected its workforce. The defendants contended that no action for libel would lie on the part of a company unless actual pecuniary damage was proved.
CitedNational Union of General and Municipal Workers v Gillian 1946
A non-trading corporation (a trade union) which had been assimilated to a trading corporation sought damages for defamation. . .
CitedThe Metropolitan Saloon Omnibus Company v Hawkins CEC 2-Dec-1858
The plaintiff, a company incorporated under the Joint Stock Companies Act 1856 sued in respect of a libel imputing to it insolvency, mismanagement and dishonest carrying on of its affairs.
Held: The action was maintainable. Pollock CB said: . .
CitedManchester Corporation v Williams QBD 1891
The defendant wrote to a newspaper alleging that ‘in the case of two if not three departments of our Manchester city council, bribery and corruption have existed and done their nefarious work.’
Held: The claim disclosed no cause of action. A . .
CitedHector v Attorney General of Antigua PC 1990
Lord Bridge of Harwich said that: ‘In a free democratic society it is almost too obvious to need stating that those who hold office in government and who are responsible for public administration must always be open to criticism. Any attempt to . .

Cited by:
CitedRegina v Her Majesty’s Attorney General ex parte Rusbridger and Another HL 26-Jun-2003
Limit to Declaratory Refilef as to Future Acts
The applicant newspaper editor wanted to campaign for a republican government. Articles were published, and he sought confirmation that he would not be prosecuted under the Act, in the light of the 1998 Act.
Held: Declaratory relief as to the . .
CitedWainwright and another v Home Office HL 16-Oct-2003
The claimant and her son sought to visit her other son in Leeds Prison. He was suspected of involvement in drugs, and therefore she was subjected to strip searches. There was no statutory support for the search. The son’s penis had been touched . .
CitedDirector of Public Prosecutions v Jones and Lloyd HL 4-Mar-1999
21 people protested peacefully on the verge of the A344, next to the perimeter fence at Stonehenge. Some carried banners saying ‘Never Again,’ ‘Stonehenge Campaign 10 years of Criminal Injustice’ and ‘Free Stonehenge.’ The officer in charge . .
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 . .
CitedJameel and Another v Wall Street Journal Europe Sprl (No 2) CA 3-Feb-2005
The claimant sought damages for an article published by the defendant, who argued that as a corporation, the claimant corporation needed to show special damage, and also that the publication had qualified privilege.
Held: ‘It is an established . .
CitedRegina v Secretary of State for The Home Department Ex Parte Simms HL 8-Jul-1999
Ban on Prisoners talking to Journalists unlawful
The two prisoners, serving life sentences for murder, had had their appeals rejected. They continued to protest innocence, and sought to bring their campaigns to public attention through the press, having oral interviews with journalists without . .
CitedJameel v Wall Street Journal Europe Sprl HL 11-Oct-2006
The House was asked as to the capacity of a limited company to sue for damage to its reputation, where it had no trading activity within the jurisdiction, and as to the extent of the Reynolds defence. The defendants/appellants had published an . .
CitedLivingstone v The Adjudication Panel for England Admn 19-Oct-2006
The claimant challenged a finding that as Mayor of London offensive remarks he had made to a journalist as he was pursued leaving a private party had brought his office into disrepute.
Held: The appeal succeeded. Though the remarks may have . .
CitedCallaghan v Independent News and Media Ltd QBNI 7-Jan-2009
The claimant was convicted in 1987 of a callous sexual murder. He sought an order preventing the defendant newspaper publishing anything to allow his or his family’s identification and delay his release. The defendant acknowledged the need to avoid . .
CitedMetropolitan International Schools Ltd. (T/A Skillstrain And/Or Train2Game) v Designtechnica Corp (T/A Digital Trends) and Others QBD 16-Jul-2009
The claimant complained that the defendant had published on its internet forums comments by posters which were defamatory of it, and which were then made available by the second defendant search engine. The court was asked what responsibility a . .
CitedMohamed, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (No 4) Admn 4-Feb-2009
In an earlier judgment, redactions had been made relating to reports by the US government of its treatment of the claimant when held by them at Guantanamo bay. The claimant said he had been tortured and sought the documents to support his defence of . .
CitedPrebble v Television New Zealand Ltd PC 27-Jun-1994
(New Zealand) The plaintiff, an MP, pursued a defamation case. The defendant wished to argue for the truth of what was said, and sought to base his argument on things said in Parliament. The plaintiff responded that this would be a breach of . .
CitedThornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd QBD 16-Jun-2010
The claimant said that a review of her book was defamatory and a malicious falsehood. The defendant now sought summary judgment or a ruling as to the meaning of the words complained of.
Held: The application for summary judgment succeeded. The . .
CitedKelly (A Minor) v British Broadcasting Corporation FD 25-Jul-2000
K, aged 16, had left home to join what was said to be a religious sect. His whereabouts were unknown. He had been made a ward of court and the Official Solicitor was appointed to represent his interests. He had sent messages to say that he was well . .
CitedGoldsmith and Another v Bhoyrul and Others QBD 20-Jun-1997
A political party is not to have the power to sue in defamation proceedings. Such a power would operate against public policy in that it would restrict democratic debate.
Buckley J said that the principle that a local authority may not sue in . .
CitedTilbrook v Parr QBD 13-Jul-2012
The claimant, chair of a political party, the English Democrats, said that a blog written and published on the Internet by the defendant was defamatory and contained malicious falsehoods. The blog was said to associate the claimant’s party with . .
CitedLord Carlile of Berriew QC, and Others, Regina (on The Application of) v Secretary of State for The Home Department SC 12-Nov-2014
The claimant had supported the grant of a visa to a woman in order to speak to members of Parliament who was de facto leader of an Iranian organsation which had in the past supported terrorism and had been proscribed in the UK, but that proscription . .
CitedKennedy v The Charity Commission SC 26-Mar-2014
The claimant journalist sought disclosure of papers acquired by the respondent in its conduct of enquiries into the charitable Mariam appeal. The Commission referred to an absolute exemption under section 32(2) of the 2000 Act, saying that the . .
CitedTimes Newspapers Ltd and Others v Flood and Others SC 11-Apr-2017
Three newspaper publishers, having lost defamation cases, challenged the levels of costs awarded against them, saying that the levels infringed their own rights of free speech.
Held: Each of the three appeals was dismissed. . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Defamation, Local Government, Human Rights

Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.79925

Comments are closed.