The defendant had published an article which was defamatory of the claimant police officer, saying that he was under investigation for alleged corruption. The inquiry later cleared him. The court was now asked whether the paper had Reynolds type privilege in respect of the publication. A report of the simple fact of the investigation would have had qualified privilege, but the paper had added the alleged supporting facts.
Held: The newspaper’s appeal succeeded. To claim Reynolds privilege it was for the defendant to establish both that there was a public interest in the story, and that the publisher was actingvresponsibly.
The creation of Reynolds privilege reflected a recognition that the existing law of defamation did not cater adequately for the importance of the article 10 right of freedom of expression.
The court distinguished between reportage and public interest Reynolds privilege: ‘Reportage is a special, and relatively rare, form of Reynolds privilege. It arises where it is not the content of a reported allegation that is of public interest, but the fact that the allegation has been made. It protects the publisher if he has taken proper steps to verify the making of the allegation and provided that he does not adopt it.’ As to public interest privilege: ‘where the public interest in the allegation that is reported lies in its content. In such a case the public interest in learning of the allegation lies in the fact that it is, or may be, true. It is in this situation that the responsible journalist must give consideration to the likelihood that the allegation is true. Reynolds privilege absolves the publisher from the need to justify his defamatory publication, but the privilege will normally only be earned where the publisher has taken reasonable steps to satisfy himself that the allegation is true before he publishes it.’
Lord Phillips, President, Lord Brown , Lord Mance, Lord Clarke, Lord Dyson
 UKSC 11, UKSC 2010/0166,  2 WLR 760,  WLR(D) 93,  EMLR 21,  4 All ER 913,  2 AC 273,  HRLR 18
Bailii, Bailii Summary, SC Summary, SC
European Convention on Human Rights 10
England and Wales
At first instance – Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd QBD 2-Oct-2009
The defendant had published a story in its newspaper. At that time it attracted Reynolds qualified privilege. After the circumstances changed, the paper offered an updating item. That offer was rejected as inadequate.
Held: The qualified . .
Appeal from – Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd CA 13-Jul-2010
The claimant police officer complained of an article he said was defamatory in saying he was being investigated for allegations of accepting bribes. The article remained on the internet even after he was cleared. Each party appealed interim orders. . .
Cited – Cowley v Pulsifer 1884
(United States – Supreme Court of Massachusetts) The court discussed the advantage nevertheless of having proceedings in public. Holmes J said: ‘The general advantage to the country in having these proceedings made public more than counterbalances . .
Cited – Stern v Piper and Others CA 21-May-1996
The defendant newspaper said that allegations had been made against the plaintiff that he was not paying his debts. In their defence they pleaded justification and the fact that he was being sued for debt.
Held: A defamation was not to be . .
Explained – Reynolds 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 . .
Cited – Al-Fagih v H H Saudi Research and Marketing (UK) Ltd CA 1-Nov-2001
The media’s right to freedom of expression, particularly in the field of political discussion ‘is of a higher order’ than ‘the right of an individual to his good reputation.’ The majority upheld an appeal against a trial judge’s ruling that the . .
Cited – Roberts and Another v Gable and others CA 12-Jul-2007
The claimants appealed a finding of qualified privilege in their claim of defamation by the defendant author and magazine which was said to have accused them of theft and threats of violence against other members of the BNP.
Held: The appeal . .
Cited – Jameel 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 . .
Cited – Loutchansky v The Times Newspapers Ltd and Others (Nos 2 to 5) CA 5-Dec-2001
Two actions for defamation were brought by the claimant against the defendant. The publication reported in detail allegations made against the claimant of criminal activities including money-laundering on a vast scale. They admitted the defamatory . .
Cited – Chase v Newsgroup Newspapers Ltd CA 3-Dec-2002
The defendant appealed against a striking out of part of its defence to the claim of defamation, pleading justification.
Held: The Human Rights Convention had not itself changed the conditions for a plea of justification based upon reasonable . .
Cited – Purcell v Sowler CA 1877
A Manchester newspaper reported a public meeting of poor-law guardians, in which a medical officer was said to have neglected to attend pauper patients when sent for.
Held: Publication was not privileged. The Court looked beyond the . .
Cited – Polanco Torres And Movilla Polanco v Spain ECHR 21-Sep-2010
(French Text) The Spanish Newspaper El Mundo published an article defamatory of the petitioners. It was based on computer disks of company accounts authenticated by an accountant dismissed by the company. The Spanish Constitutional Court had applied . .
Cited – Pfeifer v Austria ECHR 15-Nov-2007
The right to protect one’s honour and reputation is to be treated as falling within the protection of Article 8: ‘a person’s reputation, even if that person is criticised in the context of a public debate, forms part of his or her personal identity . .
Cited – de Buse v McCarthy CA 1942
The defendant town clerk sent out a notice of a meeting of the borough council to consider a committee report about the loss of petrol from one of the council’s depots. The report was attached to the notice which was posted at the town hall and in . .
Cited – Bonnick 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 . .
Cited – In re S (a Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) HL 28-Oct-2004
Inherent High Court power may restrain Publicity
The claimant child’s mother was to be tried for the murder of his brother by poisoning with salt. It was feared that the publicity which would normally attend a trial, would be damaging to S, and an application was made for reporting restrictions to . .
Cited – Cumpana and Mazare v Roumanie ECHR 17-Dec-2004
(Grand Chamber) Reputation falls within the ambit of the protection afforded by article 8 . .
Cited – McAlpine v Bercow QBD 24-May-2013
The claimant alleged defamation in a tweet by the defendant. The court now decided as a preliminary point, the meaning of the words: ‘Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*’. There had been other but widespread (mistaken) allegations against . .
At Supreme Court – Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd QBD 25-Jul-2013
At Supreme Court – Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd QBD 19-Dec-2013
The claimant policeman alleged defamation in an article published by the defendant newspaper. The defendant advanced two substantive defences, a defence of public interest (Reynolds) privilege and justification. After protracted litigation, the . .
Cited – Turley v Unite The Union and Another QBD 19-Dec-2019
Defamation of Labour MP by Unite and Blogger
The claimant now a former MP had alleged that a posting on a website supported by the first defendant was false and defamatory. The posting suggested that the claimant had acted dishonestly in applying online for a category of membership of the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.452187