Gillick v Brook Advisory Centres and Another: CA 23 Jul 2001

The claimant appealed after closing her action for an alleged defamation by the respondents in a leaflet published by them. She challenged an interim decision by the judge as to the meaning of the words complained of.
Held: The leaflet made reference to the claimant’s history as a litigant but did so in a way which was capable of being misconstrued by those to whom it was addressed. Whilst an appellate court should be reluctant to depart from an interim ruling by a judge, they did so in this case. The appeal was allowed, though the judge’s summation of the principles was impeccable. Lord Phillips approved as impeccable Eady J’s analysis at first instance.
Lord Phillips said: ‘The proper role for the judge when adjudicating a question of this kind is to evaluate the words complained of and to delimit the range of meanings of which the words are reasonably capable, exercising his or her own judgment in the light of the principles laid down in the authorities and without any of the former Order 18 Rule 19 overtones. If the judge decides that any pleaded meaning falls outside the permissible range, then it will be his duty to rule accordingly. In deciding whether words are capable of conveying a defamatory meaning, the court should reject those meanings which can only emerge as the produce of some strained or forced or utterly unreasonable interpretation. The purpose of the new rule is to enable the court to fix in advance the ground rules and permissible meanings, which are of cardinal importance in defamation actions, not only for the purpose of assessing the degree of injury to the claimant’s reputation but also for the purpose of evaluating any defences raised, in particular, justification and fair comment.
The court should give the article the natural and ordinary meaning which it would have conveyed to the ordinary reasonable reader reading the article once. Hypothetical reasonable readers should not be treated as either naive or unduly suspicious. They should be treated as being capable of reading between the lines and engaging in some loose thinking, but not as being avid for scandal. The court should avoid an over-elaborate analysis of the article, because an ordinary reader would not analyse the article as a lawyer or accountant would analyse documents or accounts. Judges should have regard to the impression the article has made upon themselves in considering what impact it would have made on the hypothetical reasonable reader. The court should certainly not take a too literal approach to its task.’


Lord Phillips MR, Latham, Jonathan Parker LJJ


[2001] EWCA Civ 1263




England and Wales


Appeal fromGillick v Brook Advisory Centres QBD 2002
The claimant asserted that the defendant had defamed her in a leaflet. The defendant asked the court to determine that the pamphlet did not carry a defamatory meaning.
Held: Eady J formulated the principles applicable when determining meaning: . .
CitedGillick v British Broadcasting Corporation and Another CA 19-Oct-1995
Words which were broadcast were capable of meaning that the Plaintiff’s behaviour had contributed to deaths. She was a campaigner against the giving of contraceptive advice to young girls.
Held: The statement was defamatory. The full test was: . .
CitedCruise and Another v Express Newspapers Plc and Another CA 22-Jul-1998
The Court of Appeal should always be reluctant to reverse an interlocutory finding of a judge at first instance that the words alleged to be libellous are capable of bearing the defamatory meaning alleged. . .
CitedGeenty v Channel Four Television Corporation and Jessel CA 13-Jan-1998
The claimant police officer appealed against dismissal of his claim in defamation.
Held: The words were capable of implicating the plaintiff in the neglect, they were also capable of implicating him in the accusation of maltreatment. The claim . .
CitedHinduja and Another v Asia TV Limited CA 25-Nov-1997
The procedure for determining whether words were defamatory was intended to be summary; appeals are to be discouraged. The new rule was intended to lay down a swift and inexpensive procedure in chambers to eliminate meanings which the words are . .
CitedCobbold v London Borough of Greenwich CA 9-Aug-1999
The tenant had sought an order against the council landlord for failure to repair her dwelling. The defendant appealed refusal of leave to amend the pleadings in anticipation of the trial, now due to start on the following day.
Held: Leave was . .

Cited by:

CitedRatiu, Karmel, Regent House Properties Ltd v Conway CA 22-Nov-2005
The claimant sought damages for defamation. The defendant through their company had accused him acting in such a way as to allow a conflict of interest to arise. They said that he had been invited to act on a proposed purchase but had used the . .
CitedArmstrong v Times Newspapers Ltd QBD 30-Jun-2006
The claimant, a professional cyclist, sought damages in defamation, saying that the defendant newspaper had implied that he had taken performance enhancing drugs. The case was to be heard by judge alone. The court considered how to deal with the . .
CitedJeynes v News Magazines Ltd and Another CA 31-Jan-2008
Whether Statement defamatory at common law
The claimant appealed against a striking out of her claim for defamation on finding that the words did not have the defamatory meaning complained of, namely that she was transgendered or transsexual.
Held: The appeal failed.
Sir Anthony . .
CitedHorlick v Associated Newspapers Ltd QBD 24-Jun-2010
The court was asked for preliminary rulings as to meanings in a defamation action. She complained of articles regarding the failure of a business enterprise.
Held: The court’s task is well settled: ‘The judge should give the relevant article . .
CitedWright v Gregson and Others QBD 1-Jul-2010
The defendant denied that the words complained of were bore the defamatory meaning alleged, and asked the court to rule accordingly and to strike out he claim. He complained of comments about his intentions for the use of money raised for charitable . .
CitedCaplin v Associated Newspapers Ltd QBD 20-Jun-2011
The defendant sought clarification through the court as to the meanings inherent in the words complained of.
Held: The application failed. ‘I do not consider the ordinary reasonable reader would be perverse to conclude that the suspicions . .
CitedWright v Caan QBD 27-Jul-2011
The claimant sought damages in defamation and malicious falsehood and in respect of a conversation with a journalist and the defendant’s website. The defendant had made offers of support to her business venture in a television program. After she . .
CitedAuladin v Shaikh and Others QBD 5-Feb-2013
The court set out to settle the precise defamatory meanings alleged. Trustees of an Education Centre had appointed a relative of three existing trustees to join them. The claimant chairman resigned, objecting to what he said was poor governence. The . .
See AlsoGillick v Brook Advisory Centres QBD 2002
The claimant asserted that the defendant had defamed her in a leaflet. The defendant asked the court to determine that the pamphlet did not carry a defamatory meaning.
Held: Eady J formulated the principles applicable when determining meaning: . .
CitedStocker v Stocker SC 3-Apr-2019
The parties had been married and divorced. Mrs S told M S’s new partner on Facebook that he had tried to strangle her and made other allegations. Mrs S now appealed from a finding that she had defamed him. Lord Kerr restated the approach to meaning . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 29 January 2022; Ref: scu.201238