Rantzen v Mirror Group Newspapers (1986) Ltd and Others: CA 1 Apr 1993

Four articles in the People all covered the same story about Esther Rantzen’s organisation, Childline, suggesting that the plaintiff had protected a teacher who had revealed to Childline abuses of children occurring at a school where he taught, by keeping secret that he himself was a pervert, unfit to have any child in his care. The suggestion was that Miss Rantzen had protected the teacher as a reward for his help. In so doing she had abandoned her own moral standards; her public statements of concern for abused children were insincere and hypocritical, and that she had lied when informing the newspaper that publication of the story would hamper the police investigation when the truth was that she wished to avoid exposure of her own misconduct and omissions. The defendant pleaded justification and lost.
Held: Juries in defamation actions may be referred to Court of Appeal decisions on libel quantum awards to help them assess their own award. The 1990 Act allowed the Court of Appeal to make its own awards in cases in which that of the jury had been held to be excessive. Article 10(2) which required that any restrictions on freedom of speech should be ‘prescribed by law’ and ‘necessary in a democratic society’, required that awards of damages for libel should be more controlled and predictable than they were. Leaving the award to a unguided jury and refusing to interfere unless the damages were such that ‘no twelve men could reasonably have given them’ might not comply either with the principle of legal certainty or the requirement of proportionality. ‘ . . . it seems to us that the grant of an almost limitless discretion to a jury fails to provide a satisfactory measurement for deciding what is ‘necessary in a democratic society’ or ‘justified by a pressing social need.’ We consider therefore that the common law properly understood requires the courts to subject large awards of damages to a more searching scrutiny than has been customary in the past. It follows that what has been regarded as the barrier against intervention should be lowered. The question becomes: ‘could a reasonable jury have thought that this award was necessary to compensate the plaintiff and to re-establish his reputation?” The Court of Appeal reduced the jury’s award of andpound;250,000 to andpound;110,000.


Neill LJ, Staughton LJ, Roch LJ


Times 06-Apr-1993, Independent 01-Apr-1993, [1994] QB 670, [1993] 4 All ER 975, [1993] EWCA Civ 16




Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, European Convention on Human Rights 10(2)


England and Wales


ApprovedSutcliffe v Pressdram Ltd CA 1991
A 600,000 pound compensatory award was set aside by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it must have been made on the wrong basis, almost certainly so as to punish Private Eye. The Court of Appeal could not substitute its own award for that of a . .
DisapprovedMcCarey v Associated Newspapers Ltd (No 2) CA 1965
References to damages awards in personal injury actions were legitimate in directing a defamation jury on quantum. . .
CitedThe Sunday Times (No 1) v The United Kingdom ECHR 26-Apr-1979
Offence must be ;in accordance with law’
The court considered the meaning of the need for an offence to be ‘in accordance with law.’ The applicants did not argue that the expression prescribed by law required legislation in every case, but contended that legislation was required only where . .
CitedThe Sunday Times v The United Kingdom (No 2) ECHR 26-Nov-1991
Any prior restraint on freedom of expression calls for the most careful scrutiny. ‘Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society subject to paragraph (2) of Article 10. It is applicable not only to . .

Cited by:

CitedKiam v MGN Ltd CA 28-Jan-2002
Where a court regards a jury award in a defamation case as excessive, a ‘proper’ award can be substituted for it is not whatever sum court thinks appropriate, wholly uninfluenced by jury’s view, but the highest award which a jury could reasonably . .
CitedGleaner Company Ltd and Another v Abrahams PC 14-Jul-2003
Punitive Defamation Damages Order Sustained
(Jamaica) The appellants challenged a substantial award of damages for defamation. They had wrongfully accused a government minister of corruption. There was evidence of substantial financial loss. ‘For nearly sixteen years the defendants, with all . .
CitedCollins Stewart Ltd and Another v The Financial Times Ltd QBD 20-Oct-2004
The claimants sought damages for defamation. The claimed that the article had caused very substantial losses (andpound;230 million) to them by affecting their market capitalisation value. The defendant sought to strike out that part of the claim. . .
CitedWatkins v Home Office and others HL 29-Mar-2006
The claimant complained of misfeasance in public office by the prisons for having opened and read protected correspondence whilst he was in prison. The respondent argued that he had suffered no loss. The judge had found that bad faith was . .
CitedRowlands v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police CA 20-Dec-2006
The claimant succeeded in her claims for general damages against the respondent for personal injury, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, but appealed refusal of the court to award aggravated damages against the chief constable.
Held: . .
CitedHurst, Regina (on the Application of) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v London Northern District Coroner HL 28-Mar-2007
The claimant’s son had been stabbed to death. She challenged the refusal of the coroner to continue with the inquest with a view to examining the responsibility of any of the police in having failed to protect him.
Held: The question amounted . .
CitedLumba (WL) v Secretary of State for The Home Department SC 23-Mar-2011
The claimants had been detained under the 1971 Act, after completing sentences of imprisonment pending their return to their home countries under deportations recommended by the judges at trial, or chosen by the respondent. They challenged as . .
CitedKelly (A Minor) v British Broadcasting Corporation FD 25-Jul-2000
K, aged 16, had left home to join what was said to be a religious sect. His whereabouts were unknown. He had been made a ward of court and the Official Solicitor was appointed to represent his interests. He had sent messages to say that he was well . .
CitedCairns v Modi CA 31-Oct-2012
Three appeals against the levels of damages awards were heard together, and the court considered the principles to be applied.
Held: In assessing compensation following a libel, the essential question was how much loss and damage did the . .
CitedDhir v Saddler QBD 6-Dec-2017
Slander damages reduced for conduct
Claim in slander. The defendant was said, at a church meeting to have accused the client of threatening to slit her throat. The defendant argued that the audience of 80 was not large enough.
Held: ‘the authorities demonstrate that it is the . .
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 . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Defamation, Damages, Human Rights

Updated: 22 September 2022; Ref: scu.85667