The plaintiff complained of an alleged slander spoken at a meeting of the Town Council. The council meeting was an occasion attracting qualified privilege. The judge at trial found that the councillor honestly believed that what he had said in the meeting was true but he had become so anxious to have the other councillor removed from a Committee that he did not consider fairly and objectively whether the evidence he had in his possession justified his conclusions or comments. It followed that the statements were published maliciously and the defence of qualified privilege failed. The Court of Appeal allowed the defendant’s appeal.
Held: The CA decision was upheld. An allegation of malice is a very serious allegation and is generally tantamount to dishonesty. The House considered the circumstances under which a defendant in a defamation case can establish the defence of qualified privilege.
Lord Diplock said: ‘as a general rule English law gives effect to the ninth commandment that a man shall not speak evil falsely of his neighbour. It supplies a temporal sanction: if he cannot prove that defamatory matter which he published was true, he is liable in damages to whomever he has defamed, except where publication is oral only, causes no damage and falls outside the categories of slander actionable per se. The public interest that the law should provide an effective means whereby a man can vindicate his reputation against calumny has nevertheless to be accommodated to the competing public interest in permitting men to communicate frankly and freely with one another about matters in respect of which the law recognises that they have a duty to perform or an interest to protect in doing so. What is published in good faith on matters of these kinds is published on a privileged occasion. It is not actionable even though it be defamatory and turns out to be untrue. With some exceptions which are irrelevant to the instant appeal, the privilege is not absolute but qualified. It is lost if the occasion which gives rise to it is misused. For in all cases of qualified privilege there is some special reason of public policy why the law accords immunity from suit – the existence of some public or private duty, whether legal or moral, on the part of the maker of the defamatory statement which justifies his communicating it or of some interest of his own which he is entitled to protect by doing so. If he uses the occasion for some other reason he loses the protection of the privilege.’
Indifference to truth is not to be equated with carelessness, impulsiveness or irrationality in arriving at a positive belief that what is said is true: ‘In ordinary life it is rare indeed for people to form their beliefs by a process of logical deduction from facts ascertained by a rigorous search for all available evidence and a judicious assessment of its probative value. In greater or in less degree according to their temperaments, their training, their intelligence, they are swayed by prejudice, rely on intuition instead of reasoning, leap to conclusions on inadequate evidence and fail to recognise the cogency of material which might cast doubt on the validity of the conclusions they reach. But despite the imperfection of the mental process by which the belief is arrived at it may still be ‘honest’, that is, a positive belief that the conclusions they have reached are true. The law demands no more.’
‘The exception is where what is published incorporates defamatory matter that is not really necessary to fulfilment of the particular duty or the protection of the particular interest upon which the privilege is founded. Logically it might be said that such irrelevant matter falls outside the privilege altogether. But if this were so it would involve application by the court of an objective test of relevance to every part of the defamatory matter published on the privileged occasion; whereas, as everyone knows, ordinary human beings vary in their ability to distinguish that which is logically relevant from that which is not and few, apart from lawyers, have had any training which qualifies them to do so. So the protection afforded by the privilege would be illusory if it were lost in respect of any defamatory matter which upon logical analysis could be shown to be irrelevant to the fulfilment of the duty or the protection of the right upon which the privilege was founded . . As regards irrelevant matter the test is not whether it is logically relevant but whether, in all the circumstances, it can be inferred that the defendant either did not believe it to be true or, though believing it to be true, realised that it had nothing to do with the particular duty or interest on which the privilege was based, but nevertheless seized the opportunity to drag in irrelevant defamatory matter to vent his personal spite, or for some other improper motive. Here, too, judges and juries should be slow to draw this inference.’
 AC 135,  1 All ER 662
England and Wales
Cited – Adam v Ward HL 1917
The plaintiff, Major Adam MP, falsely attacked General Scobell in a speech in the House of Commons, thus bringing his charge into the national arena. The Army Council investigated the charge, rejected it and directed their secretary, Sir E Ward, the . .
Cited – Halford v Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary, Curtis CA 13-Feb-2003
The claimant appealed orders in favour of the defendant that statements, which he claimed were defamatory, were made in situations attracting qualified privilege. Allegations had been made by his step-children that the claimant had assaulted them. . .
Cited – Branson v Bower QBD 2001
The objective test for fair comment is whether it would be perverse for a jury to hold that the comments are not such that an honest person could express them in the light of the facts known by the Defendants at the date of publication. Hard-hitting . .
Cited – Meade v Pugh and Another QBD 5-Mar-2004
The claimant was a social work student. He attended a work experience placement, and challenged the report given by the defendants on that placement, saying it was discriminatory and defamatory. He appealed a strike out of his claim.
Held: The . .
Cited – Alexander v Arts Council of Wales CA 9-Apr-2001
In a defamation action, where the judge considered that, taken at their highest, the allegations made by the claimant would be insufficient to establish the claim, he could grant summary judgment for the defence. If the judge considered that a . .
Cited – Heath v Humphreys 21-May-1990
The court considered the circumstances under which malice could be established so as to defeat a claim of qualified privilege. Malice is not to be inferred from the hypothetical untruth of a proposition derived from a misconstruction of a . .
Cited – Loveless v Earl; Capital and Counties (Financial Services) Limited CA 4-Nov-1998
When a defendant claimed qualified privilege and the Plaintiff alleged that the words complained of were issued with malice, the defendant will not prevented from reliance on qualified privilege if it can show that the words have an honestly . .
Cited – Fraser v Mirza HL 29-Mar-1993
A complaint made against a police officer may be libellous if it was made with an improper motive: ‘The motive with which a person made a defamatory communication can only be ascertained from an examination of his state of mind at the time he made . .
Cited – 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 – Street v Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre CA 21-Jul-2004
The claimant alleged that she had been dismissed for making qualifying disclosures about her employers. The employer said that her actions had not been in good faith. The claimant answered that her motive was irrelevant. The claimant appealed . .
Cited – Milne v Express Newspapers CA 28-May-2004
The claimant, having not accepted an offer to make amends, wanted to proceed to a jury trial. To be permitted to do so, he had to seek to establish that the defendants ‘knew or had reason to believe that the statement complained of . . was both . .
Cited – Nail and Another v News Group Newspapers Ltd and others CA 20-Dec-2004
The claimant appealed the award of damages in his claim for defamation. The defendants had variously issued apologies. The claimant had not complained initially as to one publication.
Held: In defamation proceedings the damage to feelings is . .
Cited – Jameel 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 . .
Cited – Panday v Gordon PC 5-Oct-2005
(Trinidad and Tobago) A senior politician had accused an opponent of pseudo-racism. The defendant asserted that he had a defence under the constitution, allowing freedom of political speech.
Held: The appeal failed. The statements were . .
Cited – Bray v Deutsche Bank Ag QBD 12-Jun-2008
A former employee of the defendant bank sued in defamation after the bank published a press release about its results which he said was critical of him.
Held: Where there is a real issue as to whether the words are defamatory of the claimant, . .
Cited – Tesco Stores Ltd v Guardian News and Media Ltd and Another QBD 29-Jul-2008
The defendant newspaper published articles making allegations as to the use of offshore tax avoidance arrangements. The claimant sought damages also in malicious falsehood. The defendants sought to rely on an offer of amends served only a few . .
Cited – Quinton v Peirce and Another QBD 30-Apr-2009
One election candidate said that another had defamed him in an election leaflet. Additional claims were made in injurious falsehood and under the Data Protection Act.
Held: The claim in defamation failed. There were no special privileges in . .
Distinguished – Clift v Slough Borough Council and Another QBD 6-Jul-2009
The claimant sought damages for defamation. The council had decided that she had threatened a member of staff and notified various people, and entered her name on a violent persons register. She alleged malice, the council pleaded justification and . .
Cited – Watts v Times Newspapers Ltd, Neil, Palmer and Schilling and Lom CA 28-Jul-1995
The plaintiff author had claimed damages for defamation, saying that he had been accused of plagiarism. An apology had been given in the form requested – no qualified privilege. The plaintiff brought an associated case against his lawyer, saying . .
Cited – KJO v XIM QBD 7-Jul-2011
The claimant had, some 20 years previously, been convicted and sentenced for forgery of a will. The defendants, relatives, had ever since written to those with whom he had dealings to tell them of the conviction and facts. The claimant, unable to . .
Cited – Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd QBD 26-Jul-2011
The claimant alleged defamation and malicious falsehood in an article published and written by the defendants. She complained that she was said to have fabricated an interview with the second defendant for her book. An interview of sorts had now . .
Cited – Tilbrook 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 . .
Cited – Seray-Wurie v The Charity Commission of England and Wales CA 3-Feb-2009
The claimant appealed against the striking out of his claim for defamation in a reort prepared by the defendants criticising his actions as chairman of a CAB. The action had been struck out on the basis of qualified privilege, and the claimant’s . .
Cited – Makudi v Baron Triesman of Tottenham In London Borough of Haringey QBD 1-Feb-2013
The claimant, former chairman of the Thailand Football Association, claimed in defamation against the defendant who had been chairman of the English Football Association. The defendant asked the court to strike out the claim, saying that some of the . .
Cited – Khader v Aziz and Others CA 23-Jun-2010
The claimant brought defamation proceedings after she had found and returned a valuable necklace belonging to the first respondent. The claim had been dismissed as an abuse of process.
Held: The claimant’s appeal failed: ‘there is such a . .
Cited – Greenstein v Campaign Against Antisemitism CA 9-Jul-2021
Failure to plead decisive malice allegation
Appeal by the claimant against an order following a judgment striking out particulars of malice pleaded in the amended reply, among other determinations. Judgment was then entered in favour of the Campaign Against Antisemitsm in respect of a claim . .
Cited – Herbage v Pressdram Ltd CA 1984
There was a publication of articles which referred to convictions which were spent under the 1974 Act. The court restated the principle in Bonnard v Perryman: ‘These principles have evolved because of the value the court has placed on freedom of . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.179329