Kearns and Others v The General Council of the Bar: CA 17 Mar 2003

The claimants had sought to recover from the General Council of the Bar damages for libel in a communication from the head of the Bar Council’s Professional Standards and Legal Services Department to all heads of chambers, their senior clerks and practice managers to the effect that the claimants were not solicitors and were thus not entitled to instruct counsel with the result that it would be improper for members of the Bar to accept work from them. The letter was clearly noth libellous and untrue, but also not malicious. The court was asked when is verification a relevant circumstance in determining whether or not a defamatory communication is protected by qualified privilege?
Held: On the defence of qualified privilege: ‘The argument, as it seems to me, has been much bedevilled by the use of the terms ‘common interest’ and ‘duty-interest’ for all the world as if these are clear-cut categories and any particular case is instantly recognisable as falling within one or other of them. It also seems to me surprising and unsatisfactory that privilege should be thought to attach more readily to communications made in the service of one’s own interests than in the discharge of a duty – as at first blush this distinction would suggest. To my mind an altogether more helpful categorisation is to be found by distinguishing between on the one hand cases where the communicator and the communicatee are in an existing and established relationship (irrespective of whether within that relationship the communications between them relate to reciprocal interests or reciprocal duties or a mixture of both) and on the other hand cases where no such relationship has been established and the communication is between strangers (or at any rate is volunteered otherwise than by reference to their relationship . . Once the distinction is made in this way, moreover, it becomes to my mind understandable that the law should attach privilege more readily to communications within an existing relationship than to those between strangers. The latter present particular problems.’

Mr Justice Keene Lord Justice Mantell Lord Justice Simon Brown
[2003] EWCA Civ 331, [2003] 1 WLR 1357
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedDowntex v Flatley CA 2-Oct-2003
The claimants sought damages for defamation and breach of contract. The claimants had purchased a business from the defendant, which contract included a clause requiring the defendant to say nothing damaging about the business. The defendant . .
CitedHowe and Co v Burden QBD 11-Feb-2004
Defence of consent – no strike out. The precise ambit of the defence of consent in a defamation case is best established at trial on the basis of the tribunal’s findings of fact. . .
CitedMeade 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 . .
CitedSeray-Wurie v The Charity Commission of England and Wales QBD 23-Apr-2008
The defendant sought an order to strike out the claimant’s allegations of defamation and other torts. The defendants claimed qualified privilege in that the statements complained of were contained in a report prepared by it in fulfilment of its . .
CitedClift 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 . .
CitedLewis v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis and Others (Rev 1) QBD 31-Mar-2011
The defendant sought a ruling on the meaning of the words but using section 69(4) of the 1981 Act. The claimant solicitor was acting in complaints as to the unlawful interception of celebrity voicemails by agents of the press. There had been debate . .
CitedW v Westminster City Council and Others QBD 9-Dec-2004
The claimant sought to bring an action for defamation based upon communications made in a child protection conference. The reference was in a Report for Conference to be held pursuant to the duties imposed on local authorities by the Children Act . .
CitedClift v Slough Borough Council CA 21-Dec-2010
The court was asked how, if at all, the Human Rights Act 1998 has affected a local authority’s defence of qualified privilege in defamation cases. The claimant had been placed on the Council’s Violent Persons Register after becoming very upset and . .
CitedWood v Chief Constable West Midlands Police CA 8-Dec-2004
The claimant was a director of a limited company. A Detective Chief Inspector with responsibility for crime prevention was investigating a series of car thefts and arrested the claimant’s business partner and, before the accused had even stood his . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Legal Professions, Defamation

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.179914