Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd and Another: SC 12 Jun 2019

Need to Show Damage Increased by 2013 Act

The claimant alleged defamation by three publishers. The articles were held to have defamatory meaning, but the papers argued that the defamations did not reach the threshold of seriousness in section 1(1) of the 2013 Act.
Held: The appeal succeeded. Section 1 of the 2013 Act not only raises the threshold of seriousness from that in Jameel and Thornton, but requires its application to be determined by reference to the actual facts about its impact, not merely the meaning of the words.
Lord Sumption said that s 1 was to be interpreted in the light of the common law background, which he summarised as follows: ‘. . working definition of what makes a statement defamatory, derived from the speech of Lord Atkin in Sim v Stretch [1936] 2 All ER 1237, 1240, is that ‘the words tend to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally.’ Like other formulations in the authorities, this turns on the supposed impact of the statement on those to whom it is communicated. But that impact falls to be ascertained in accordance with a number of more or less artificial rules. First, the meaning is not that which other people may actually have attached to it, but that which is derived from an objective assessment of the defamatory meaning that the notional ordinary reasonable reader would attach to it. Secondly, in an action for defamation actionable per se, damage to the claimant’s reputation is presumed rather than proved. It depends on the inherently injurious character (or ‘tendency’, in the time-honoured phrase) of a statement bearing that meaning. Thirdly, the presumption is one of law, and irrebuttable.
In two important cases decided in the decade before the Defamation Act 2013, the courts added a further requirement, namely that the damage to reputation in a case actionable per se must pass a minimum threshold of seriousness.’
Lord Sumption said that Parliament had clearly departed from the terms developed by the courts, and that must signify an intent to change the law and: ‘ . . a working definition of what makes a statement defamatory, derived from the speech of Lord Atkin in Sim v Stretch [1936] 2 All ER 1237, 1240, is that ‘the words tend to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally.’ Like other formulations in the authorities, this turns on the supposed impact of the statement on those to whom it is communicated. But that impact falls to be ascertained in accordance with a number of more or less artificial rules. First, the meaning is not that which other people may actually have attached to it, but that which is derived from an objective assessment of the defamatory meaning that the notional ordinary reasonable reader would attach to it. Secondly, in an action for defamation actionable per se, damage to the claimant’s reputation is presumed rather than proved. It depends on the inherently injurious character (or ‘tendency’, in the time-honoured phrase) of a statement bearing that meaning. Thirdly, the presumption is one of law, and irrebuttable.
In two important cases decided in the decade before the Defamation Act 2013, the courts added a further requirement, namely that the damage to reputation in a case actionable per se must pass a minimum threshold of seriousness.’
and: ‘Finally, if serious harm can be demonstrated only by reference to the inherent tendency of the words, it is difficult to see that any substantial change to the law of defamation has been achieved by what was evidently intended as a significant amendment. The main reason why harm which was less than ‘serious’ had given rise to liability before the Act was that damage to reputation was presumed from the words alone and might therefore be very different from any damage which could be established in fact. If, as Ms Page submits, the presumption still works in that way, then this anomaly has been carried through into the Act. Suppose that the words amount to a grave allegation against the claimant, but they are published to a small number of people, or to people none of whom believe it, or possibly to people among whom the claimant had no reputation to be harmed. The law’s traditional answer is that these matters may mitigate damages but do not affect the defamatory character of the words. Yet it is plain that section 1 was intended to make them part of the test of the defamatory character of the statement.’

Judges:

Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Sumption, Lord Hodge, Lord Briggs

Citations:

[2019] UKSC 27, [2019] 3 WLR 18, UKSC 2017/0175, [2020] AC 612, [2019] EMLR 22, [2019] 4 All ER 485

Links:

Bailii, Bailii Summary, SC Judgment, SC Summary, SC Summary video, SC Video 131118 am, SC Vid 131118 pm, SC Vid 141118 am, WLRD

Statutes:

Defamation Act 2013 1

Jurisdiction:

England and Wales

Citing:

See AlsoLachaux v Independent Print Ltd QBD 11-Mar-2015
Judgment as to meaning of certain of the phrases founding the defamation action.
Held: The articles were held to have meant (inter alia) that Mr Lachaux had been violent and abusive towards his wife during their marriage, had hidden Louis’ . .
Ar first instanceLachaux v Independent Print Ltd QBD 1-Apr-2015
The claimant alleged defamation by the three defendant news organisations. The defendants now sought trial of certain preliminary issues, and particularly whether the claimant had suffered any serious harm to his reputation.
Held: The court . .
See AlsoLachaux v Independent Print Ltd and Others QBD 29-Jun-2015
Orders allowing extension of time for service of the Particulars of Claim. . .
See AlsoLachaux v Independent Print Ltd QBD 30-Jul-2015
The claimant brought defamation claims as to articles making allegations said to imply that the claimant had mistreated his wife. The defendant contended that, while inferences might sometimes suffice, s.1 (1) nevertheless required a claimant to . .
See AlsoLachaux v Independent Print Ltd/ Evening Standard Ltd QBD 18-Dec-2015
In each of these libel actions the Claimant applied for an order for the delivery up of documents which he claimed were the subject of legal professional privilege but which have been obtained by the Defendants from his former wife, Ms Lachaux, in . .
Appeal fromLachaux v Independent Print Ltd (1) CA 12-Sep-2017
Defamation – presumption of damage after 2013 Act
The claimant said that the defendant had published defamatory statements which were part of a campaign of defamation brought by his former wife. The court now considered the requirement for substantiality in the 2013 Act.
Held: The defendant’s . .
CitedLachaux v Independent Print Ltd (2) CA 12-Sep-2017
The court was asked whether the defendants and their solicitors may retain and make use of information contained in documents which are said by the claimant to be confidential and the subject of legal professional privilege . .
CitedSim v Stretch HL 1936
Test For Defamatory Meaning
The plaintiff complained that the defendant had written in a telegram to accuse him of enticing away a servant. The House considered the process of deciding whether words were defamatory.
Held: The telegram was incapable of bearing a . .
CitedRatcliffe v Evans CA 28-May-1892
The plaintiff was an engineer and boiler-maker. He alleged that a statement in the local newspaper that he had ceased business had caused him loss. The evidence that was given at trial consisted of general evidence of a downturn in trade; but the . .
CitedJones v Jones HL 1916
The House described the different origins of libel and slander. Libel was regarded by the Court of Star Chamber not merely as a crime punishable as such, but also as a wrong carrying the penalty of general damages, and this remedy was carried . .
CitedCassell and Co Ltd v Broome and Another HL 23-Feb-1972
Exemplary Damages Award in Defamation
The plaintiff had been awarded damages for defamation. The defendants pleaded justification. Before the trial the plaintiff gave notice that he wanted additional, exemplary, damages. The trial judge said that such a claim had to have been pleaded. . .
CitedThornton 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 . .
CitedDow Jones and Co Inc v Jameel CA 3-Feb-2005
Presumption of Damage in Defamation is rebuttable
The defendant complained that the presumption in English law that the victim of a libel had suffered damage was incompatible with his right to a fair trial. They said the statements complained of were repetitions of statements made by US . .
CitedBlack-Clawson International Ltd v Papierwerke Waldhof Aschaffenburg AG HL 5-Mar-1975
Statute’s Mischief May be Inspected
The House considered limitations upon them in reading statements made in the Houses of Parliament when construing a statute.
Held: It is rare that a statute can be properly interpreted without knowing the legislative object. The courts may . .
CitedLewis v Daily Telegraph Ltd HL 1964
Ascertaining Meaning of Words for Defamation
The Daily Telegraph had published an article headed ‘Inquiry on Firm by City Police’ and the Daily Mail had published an article headed ‘Fraud Squad Probe Firm’. The plaintiffs claimed that those articles carried the meaning that they were guilty of . .
CitedAssociated Newspapers Ltd v Dingle HL 1974
A defendant cannot rely in mitigation of damages on the fact that similar defamatory statements have been published about the same claimant by other persons. . .

Cited by:

CitedZC v Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust QBD 26-Jul-2019
Defamation/privacy claims against doctors failed
The claimant, seeking damages for alleged defamation, now asked for the case to be anonymised.
Held: The conditions for anonymisation were not met. The anonymity would be retained temporarily until any time for appeal had passed.
As to . .
CitedTurley 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 . .
CitedSimon and Others v Lyder and Another PC 29-Jul-2019
(Trinidad and Tobago) The Board was asked as to the well-known conundrum in the common law of defamation, namely the extent to which (if at all) two or more different statements made upon different occasions by the same defendant may be aggregated . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Defamation

Updated: 24 April 2022; Ref: scu.638233