Trapp v Mackie: HL 1979

Dr Trapp had been dismissed from his post by the Aberdeenshire Education Committee of which Mr Mackie was chairman. Dr Trapp petitioned the Secretary of State for an inquiry into the reasons for his dismissal. An inquiry was set up, and in the course of that inquiry Mr Mackie gave evidence. On the basis of that evidence Dr Trapp sued Mr Mackie for damages for loss, injury and damage which he claimed to have suffered as a result of ‘maliciously false evidence’.
Held: ‘That absolute privilege attaches to words spoken or written in the course of giving evidence in proceedings in a court of justice is a rule of law, based on public policy, that has been established since earliest times. That the like privilege extends to evidence given before tribunals which, although not courts of justice, nevertheless act in a manner similar to that in which courts of justice act, was established . . by the decision in . . Dawkins.’ The tribunals attracting absolute privilege were described in O’Connor v. Waldron and confirmed in Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society Ltd. v. Parkinson. ‘No single touchstone emerges from the cases; but this is not surprising for the rule of law is one which involves the balancing of conflicting public policies, one general: that the law should provide a remedy to the citizen whose good name and reputation is traduced by malicious falsehoods uttered by another; the other particular: that witnesses before tribunals recognised by law should give their testimony free from fear of being harassed by an action on an allegation whether true or false that they acted from malice . . So, to decide whether a tribunal acts in a manner similar to courts of justice and thus is of such a kind as will attract absolute, as distinct from qualified, privilege for witnesses when they give testimony before it, one must consider first, under what authority the tribunal acts, secondly the nature of the question into which it is its duty to inquire; thirdly the procedure adopted by it in carrying out the inquiry; and fourthly the legal consequences of the conclusion reached by the tribunal as a result of the inquiry.’ and ‘In deciding whether a particular tribunal is of such a kind as to attract absolute privilege for witnesses when they give testimony before it, your Lordships are engaged in the task of balancing against one another public interests which conflict. In such a task legal technicalities have at most a minor part to play.’


Lord Diplock


[1979] 1 WLR 377, [1979] 1 All ER 489


England and Wales


CitedDawkins v Lord Rokeby 1873
Police officers (among others) are immune from any action that may be brought against them on the ground that things said or done by them in the ordinary course of the proceedings were said or done falsely and maliciously and without reasonable and . .
CitedDawkins v Lord Rokeby HL 1875
The court unanimously confirmed the judgment of the lower court and expressly adopted the reasoning given. Witnesses before tribunals recognised by law should be able to ‘give their testimony free from any fear of being harassed by an action on an . .
CitedO’Connor v Waldron HL 1935
The kind of tribunal to which absolute privilege attaches is one which ‘has similar attributes to a court of justice or acts in a manner similar to that in which such courts act.’ It is a question ‘not capable of very precise limitation’. . .
CitedRoyal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society Ltd v Parkinson CA 1892
The court described the characteristics of a tribunal to which absolute privilege attaches. Having spoken of ‘an authorised inquiry which, though not before a court of justice, is before a tribunal which has similar attributes’ and similar . .

Cited by:

CitedGray v Avadis QBD 30-Jul-2003
The claimant had made complaints against the defendant solicitor to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors. In answer the defendant made assertions about the claimant’s mental health, and she now sought to bring action iin defamation on those . .
CitedHeath v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis CA 20-Jul-2004
The female civilian officer alleged sex discrimination against her by a police officer. Her complaint was heard at an internal disciplinary. She alleged sexual harrassment, and was further humiliated by the all male board’s treatment of her . .
CitedAmwell View School v Dogherty EAT 15-Sep-2006
The claimant had secretly recorded the disciplinary hearings and also the deliberations of the disciplinary panel after their retirement. The tribunal had at a case management hearing admitted the recordings as evidence, and the defendant appealed, . .
CitedLake v British Transport Police CA 5-May-2007
The claimant challenged dismissal of his claim of having suffered an unfair detriment having made a disclosure with regard to his employers. The employers had said that as a constable, his employment was outside the scope of the Act, and the . .
CitedWhite v Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust and Another QBD 1-Apr-2011
The claimant doctor sued in defamation for letters written by the defendants to the Fitness to Practice Directorate. She now sought to appeal against a finding that she could not rely upon one letter which had come to her attention through . .
CitedVaughan v London Borough of Lewisham and Others QBD 11-Apr-2013
The claimant sought an order to restrain anticipated defamatory comments and evidence to be given to an employment tribunal.
Held: It could not be said as the claimant asserted that dfeences were bound to fail, and no determination should be . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 06 May 2022; Ref: scu.185758