W 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 that there was ‘concern that [the claimant] might be grooming S for prostitution.’ The two individual employees of the defendant Council responsible for the publication admitted that it should not have happened and that the explanation was one of mistake and a misunderstanding on their part.
Held: Words published at such conferences were protected by qualified but not absolute privilege. The public interest was the same as in S -v- Newham. The Human Rights Act had come into force since, but the same interests had to be balanced.
Tugendhat J said that: ‘This is a case of an existing and established relationship, going back many years, between the mother’s family and the Social Services Department of the Council. Accordingly, Kearns supports the following conclusion. The fact that the information in the words complained of was not verified (or not ‘evidence based’) could not take the case outside the protection of qualified privilege unless [the authors of the report] were deliberately publishing what they knew to be outside the official guidance known to them.
It is true that the duties of the Council in this case (which were being performed on their behalf by [the authors]) were public law duties imposed upon them by the Children Act. If the words complained of are published to [a] person to whom there is no duty to publish, or at a time, or in other circumstances when there is no duty to publish, the consequences of that do call for consideration.
However, in my judgment what matters is that the relationship between the Defendants and the publishees was an established one which plainly requires the flow of free and frank communications in both directions on all questions relevant to the discharge of the Council’s functions.’


Tugendhat J


Times 07-Jan-2005, [2004] EWHC 2866 (QB), [2005] EWHC 102 (QB




England and Wales


CitedS v Newham London Borough Council CA 24-Feb-1998
A Local Authority which was relaying the facts underlying a list of people it felt were unsuitable to work with children to the minister has no immunity from a defamation action. . .
CitedIn re S (a Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) HL 28-Oct-2004
Inherent High Court power may restrain Publicity
The claimant child’s mother was to be tried for the murder of his brother by poisoning with salt. It was feared that the publicity which would normally attend a trial, would be damaging to S, and an application was made for reporting restrictions to . .
CitedKearns 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 . .

Cited by:

CitedMcKennitt and others v Ash and Another QBD 21-Dec-2005
The claimant sought to restrain publication by the defendant of a book recounting very personal events in her life. She claimed privacy and a right of confidence. The defendant argued that there was a public interest in the disclosures.
Held: . .
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 . .
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 . .
See AlsoW v Westminister City Council QBD 10-Feb-2005
. .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 11 July 2022; Ref: scu.222531