Lord Aldington v Tolstoy, Watts: QBD 30 Nov 1989

The plaintiff sought damages after the article published by the defendants falsely accused him of complicity in war crimes.
Held: As to damages the jury awarded one and a half million pounds after being directed inter alia: ‘Let us now, members of the jury . . deal with the aspect of damages . . If the plaintiff wins, you have got to consider damages. Some would say that the only direction on damages necessary in this particular case was to say: [the applicant] says that if damages are to be payable he agrees they should be enormous. Mr Rampton [defence counsel], I do not think, in his final speech could quite bring himself to utter that word, but he said they will be very generous – and I could stop there. But that is not the way, you see, because the parties do not dictate (even if they are making concessions) how you should approach damages. You do it in accordance with the law, and that is what I am now going to tell you. You have to accept my directions about it, and you will apply them of course as you think fit.’ and
‘the means of the parties – the plaintiff or the defendant – is immaterial . . Neither, as I think I said earlier but I say it now, is the question whether Lord Aldington or [the applicant], or for that matter Mr Watts, have been or will be financially supported by any well wishers as to damages relevant at all. Nor is it relevant the undoubted fact that legal aid is not available in libel cases to a plaintiff or a defendant. All irrelevant, and if it is to be changed it is up to Parliament to do something about it . . what you are seeking to do, what a jury has to do, is to fix a sum which will compensate the plaintiff – to make amends in financial terms for the wrong done to him, because wrong has been done if you have got to the stage of awarding damages. It is not your duty or your right to punish a defendant . . What [Lord Aldington] does claim, of course, is for ‘general damages’, as lawyers call it, a sum of money to compensate him. First of all, you have to take into account the effect in this case, as in every case where there is libel, on the position, standing and reputation of the successful plaintiff . . If they [the allegations made in the pamphlet] were untrue and not fair comment, where it is suggested that they were comment, he is entitled to be compensated for that, so that that will register your view of that. Then you have got to consider . . the injury to his feelings. I told you that he cannot, of course, claim on behalf of his wife or any member of his family, although the affect on them may have had an affect on him which is a reaction, which you are entitled to take into account.
It is not just his feelings when he read this . . It is his feelings during the time whilst awaiting the trial . . and the publicity . . you have to consider . . what lawyers call ‘vindication’ . . You may think – it is a matter for you – that in this particular case vindication – showing that he was right – is the main reason for Lord Aldington bringing this action – that is what he says anyway – to restore his character and standing . . ‘An award, an enormous award’, to use [the applicant’s] words – ‘a very generous award’ to use Mr Rampton’s words, will enable him to say
that put the record straight.
Members of the jury, of course, you must not, as a result of what I have just said, just bump and bump the damages up. You must, at all times, as they say, keep your feet on the ground.
. . You have to take into account the extent and nature of the publication.
. . whilst you must leave aside any thought of punishing the defendants if you find for the plaintiff, juries are always entitled, as I have hinted already, to take into account any conduct of the defendant which has aggravated the damages – that is to say, made the damage more serious and the award higher – or mitigated them – made the damage done less serious and the award smaller.
Now, two general remarks which I make in every case: nobody asks you how you arrive at your verdict, and you do not have to give reasons like a Judge does, so it is exceedingly important that you look at the matter judicially, and that means that you should not be outrageously or unreasonably high, or outrageously or unreasonably low.
The second matter I say to every jury is: please, I beg you, if you come to damages, do not pay the slightest attention to any other case or the result of any other case you may have read about or heard about. The facts and the legal considerations are like[ly] to have been completely different. There is no league of damages in defamation cases. There is no first division, there is no fourth division, there is no Vauxhall conference, if any of you are interested in football.
So, members of the jury, please forget other cases. Use your own common sense about it. How do you translate what I have said into money terms? By our rules and procedure, members of the jury, counsel can use, and a judge can use, words like ‘very substantial’ or ‘very small’, but we do not either of us, counsel or judges, mention figures. Some people again, who have not really considered the matter very carefully, wonder about that, and they say juries should be given guidance, and I say to you what I say to every jury in these cases, it would not be a great deal of help for you, because inevitably, it is human nature and it would be their duty – counsel for the plaintiff would be at the top end of the scale and perhaps in some cases, I do not suggest this one, off the clock, and counsel for the defendant would be at the bottom end of the scale in the basement. Now, that would not be much good to anybody. As for the Judge, well the jury might think – you may have an exactly opposite view – a jury might think: ‘Well, on the whole, whatever other people say about this particular Judge in this case, we think he tried to be fair, why doesn’t he suggest a figure to us?’
Supposing a Judge, myself in this case, were to suggest a figure to you, or a bracket between so and so and so and so, there would be two possibilities: one is that you would ignore what I said and either go higher than my figure or bracket, or much lower, in which case of course the losing party that did not like it would be off to the Court of Appeal saying: ‘Look, the Judge suggested a figure and the jury went above it or below it.’
Supposing you accepted my suggestion, and gave a figure that I recommended, or close to it. Well, all I can say is that you would have been wasting your valuable time in considering the matter of damages because you would just have been acting as a rubber stamp for me, or the Judge, whoever it was. So we do not have that over-bidding or under-bidding, as the Court of Appeal has called it, by counsel, and we do not have Judges trying to lay down to juries what they should award, and I do not hesitate to say, whatever other people say, I hope and pray, for the sake of our law and our court, we never get the day when Judges dictate to juries so that they become rubber stamps.
I am, however, allowed – indeed encouraged – by the Court of Appeal just to say a little bit more. I say it not perhaps in the words of the Court of Appeal, but in my own way, which may be too homely for some, but I say to you that you must remember what money is. You do not deal in Mickey Mouse money just reeling off noughts because they sound good, I know you will not. You have got to consider money in real terms. Sometimes it is said ‘Well, how much would a house cost of a certain kind’, and if you are giving a plaintiff as compensation so much money how many houses is he going to buy? I do not mean to suggest that Lord Aldington or any other plaintiff would take his damages and go and buy a house or a row of houses, but that relates it to the sort of thing, if you will allow me to say, you and I do know something about, because most of us have a pretty good idea how much houses are worth. So remember that.’


Justice Michael Davies


Unreported, 30 November 1989

Cited by:

Appeal fromWatts v Aldington, Tolstoy v Aldington CA 15-Dec-1993
There had been a settlement of proceedings for libel brought by Lord Aldington against Mr Nigel Watts and Count Nikolai Tolstoy. Lord Aldington had obtained judgment for andpound;1.5 million in damages against both defendants following a trial. . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Defamation, Damages

Updated: 30 April 2022; Ref: scu.224363