Gregory v Portsmouth City Council: HL 10 Feb 2000

Disciplinary proceedings had been taken by the local authority against Mr Gregory, a council member, after allegations had been made that he had failed to declare conflicts of interest, and that he had used confidential information to secure a personal financial advantage. He had been found to have breached the relevant code of practice and removed from several committees. The case was widely reported. The findings were later overturned. He brought an action in malicious prosecution.
Held: The authority’s acts could not be used to found a claim for malicious prosecution. The House declined to expand the tort of malicious prosecution to cover civil proceedings generally. Even if the motivation behind the action was malicious, they could not give rise to an essential backdrop to such a case, namely a criminal sanction. There was a great diversity of statutory and non-statutory disciplinary proceedings with different purposes. To leave it to the courts to decide on a case-by-case basis which disciplinary proceedings might ground the tort would be liable to plunge the law into uncertainty.
Lord Steyn said: ‘The inquiry must proceed from the premise of the law as it stands. The tort of malicious prosecution is narrowly defined. Telling lies about a defendant is not by itself tortious: Hargreaves v Bretherton [1959] 1 QB 45. A moment’s reflection will show what welter of undesirable relitigation would be permitted by any different rule . . Damage is a necessary ingredient of the tort. This element of the tort was explained in a dictum of Holt CJ in Savill v Roberts (1698) 12 Mod. Rep. 208.
and ‘My Lords, it is not necessary for the disposal of the present appeal to express a view on the argument in favour of the extension of the tort to civil proceedings generally. It would, however, be unsatisfactory to leave this important issue in the air. I will, therefore, briefly state my conclusions on this aspect. There is a stronger case for an extension of the tort to civil legal proceedings than to disciplinary proceedings Both criminal and civil legal proceedings are covered by the same immunity. And as I have explained with reference to the potential damage of publicity about a civil action alleging fraud, the traditional explanation namely that in the case of civil proceedings the poison and the antidote are presented simultaneously, is no longer plausible. Nevertheless, for essentially practical reasons I am not persuaded that the general extension of the tort to civil proceedings has been shown to be necessary if one takes into account the protection afforded by other related torts. I am tolerably confident that any manifest injustices arising from groundless and damaging civil proceedings are either already adequately protected under other torts or are capable of being addressed by any necessary and desirable extensions of other torts. Instead of embarking on a radical extension of the tort of malicious prosecution I would rely on the capacity of our tort law for pragmatic growth in response to true necessities demonstrated by experience.’


Lord Browne-Wilkinson Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead Lord Steyn Lord Hobhouse of Wood-borough Lord Millett


Times 02-Feb-2000, Gazette 10-Feb-2000, [2000] UKHL 3, [2000] 1 AC 419, [2000] 1 All ER 560, [2000] 1 WLR 306, [2000] BLGR 203, [2000] Po LR 3, (2000) 2 LGLR 667


House of Lords, Bailii


England and Wales


CitedRegina v Portsmouth City Council, Ex parte Gregory and Mos QBD 1990
The local authority had disciplined two of its councillors for alleged breach of the Code for Local Government. The councillors now successfully challenged the proceedings. The administrative Sub-Committee which had made the finding had been acting . .
Appeal fromGregory v Portsmouth City Council CA 5-Nov-1997
The plaintiff councillor had been disciplined by the defendant for allegations. The findings were later overturned, and he now sought damages alleging malicious prosecution.
Held: The categories of malicious prosecution are closed, and it was . .
CitedGibbs and others v Rea PC 29-Jan-1998
(Cayman Islands) The respondent worked for a bank. He disclosed a business interest, but that interest grew in importance to the point where he resigned in circumstances amounting to constructive dismissal. His home and business officers were raided . .
CitedMartin v Watson HL 13-Jul-1995
The plaintiff had been falsely reported to the police by the defendant, a neighbour, for indecent exposure whilst standing on a ladder in his garden. He had been arrested and charged, but at a hearing before the Magistrates’ Court, the Crown . .
CitedSavill v Roberts 1698
Damage is a necessary ingredient of the tort of malicious prosecution. Holt CJ described the interests protected by the tort: ‘there are three sorts of damages, any one of which is sufficient to support this action. First, damage to [the . .
CitedRegina v Bingham CACD 1991
B was convicted of shoplifting. He was diabetic and argued that at the time he was suffering hypoglycaemia and should have been allowed the defence of automatism.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The judge should have properly explored the . .
CitedBerry v British Transport Commission CA 1961
The plaintiff had been prosecuted by the defendant for pulling the emergency cord on a train without proper cause. After acquittal and payment of part of her costs, she sued for malicious prosecution, saying the damages were the part of her defence . .
CitedJohnson v Emerson 1871
Cleasby B recognised that the tort of malicious prosecution could be committed in the malicious presentation of a winding up petition. The effect of presentation of such a petition was immediately damaging to the company which was the subject of the . .
CitedHargreaves v Bretherton 1959
The Plaintiff pleaded that the First Defendant police officer had falsely and maliciously and without justification or excuse committed perjury at the Plaintiff’s trial on charges of criminal offences and that as a result the Plaintiff had been . .
CitedClissold v Cratchley CA 1910
A solicitor had sued out a Writ of fi.fa on an order in favour of his client, unaware that the debt had been paid at the country office of the solicitor, prior to the writ being issued.
Held: An action in tort will be available for setting in . .
CitedQuartz Hill Consolidated Gold Mining Co v Eyre CA 26-Jun-1883
The court considered whether an action lay without proof of special damage for maliciously presenting a winding up petition.
Held: There was. Though there was no general cause of action for maliciously bringing civil proceedings without . .
CitedLion Laboratories Ltd v Evans CA 1985
Lion Laboratories manufactured and marketed the Lion Intoximeter which was used by the police for measuring blood alcohol levels of motorists. Two ex-employees approached the Press with four documents taken from Lion. The documents indicated that . .

Cited by:

CitedBritish Airways Plc v Ryanair Limited ChD 25-Oct-2000
The claimant alleged that disparaging adverts by the defendant infringed its trade marks and amounted to the tort of malicious falsehood.
Held: There was no dispute that the mark had been used. The Act could not be used to prevent any use of . .
CitedIkea Ltd and Others v Brown and Others ComC 7-May-2009
Action short of standard for malicious prosecution
The claimants alleged a fraud by the eight defendants. The sixth defendant counterclaimed for damages alleging malicious prosecution. The claimant sought the strike out of the counterclaim.
Held: The allegations failed insofar as they related . .
CitedLand Securities Plc and Others v Fladgate Fielder (A Firm) CA 18-Dec-2009
The claimants wanted planning permission to redevelop land. The defendant firm of solicitors, their tenants, had challenged the planning permission. The claimants alleged that that opposition was a tortious abuse because its true purpose was to . .
CitedStobart Group Ltd and Others v Elliott QBD 11-Apr-2013
The defendant applied to the court for various officers of the cliamant companies to be subject to contempt proceedings. The claimants asked the court to strike of the defendant’s counterclaim and to make a civil restraint order against him. There . .
CitedCrawford Adjusters and Others v Sagicor General Insurance (Cayman) Ltd and Another PC 13-Jun-2013
(Cayman Islands) A hurricane had damaged property insured by the respondent company. The company employed the appellant as loss adjustor, but came to suspect advance payments recommended by him, and eventually claimed damages for deceit and . .
AppliedWillers v Gubay ChD 15-May-2015
The court was asked whether the tort of malicious prosecution of civil proceedings is known to English law.
Held: The Crawfod Adjusters case should not be followed: ‘If I am not bound by Gregory, then I see no reason for departing from the . .
CitedWillers v Joyce and Another (Re: Gubay (Deceased) No 1) SC 20-Jul-2016
Parties had been involved in an action for wrongful trading. This was not persisted with but the claimant sought damages saying that the action was only part of a campaign to do him harm. This appeal raised the question whether the tort of malicious . .
CitedWillers v Joyce and Another (Re: Gubay (Deceased) No 2) SC 20-Jul-2016
The Court was asked whether and in what circumstances a lower court may follow a decision of the Privy Council which has reached a different conclusion from that of the House of Lords (or the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal) on an earlier occasion. . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Local Government, Torts – Other

Updated: 30 May 2022; Ref: scu.81024