Westcott v Westcott: CA 15 Jul 2008

The defendant was the claimant’s daughter in law. In the course of a bitter divorce she made allegations to the police which were investigated but did not lead to a prosecution. The claimant appealed dismissal of his claim for defamation on the basis that such a complaint was protected by absolute privilege.
Held: The claimant’s appeal failed. Ward LJ said:’ the justification for absolute immunity from suit will depend upon the necessity for the due administration of criminal justice that complaints of alleged criminal conduct should always be capable of being made to the police free from fear that the person accused will subsequently involve the complainant in costly litigation. There is a countervailing public interest in play which is that no-one should have his or her reputation traduced, certainly not without affording him or her a remedy to redress the wrong. A balance has to be struck between these competing demands. .’ Though sometimes the system would be subject to abuse, it was necessary that those making complaints must be sure of immunity: ‘any inhibition on the freedom to complain will seriously erode the rigours of the criminal justice system and will be contrary to the public interest. In my judgment immunity must be given from the earliest moment that the criminal justice system becomes involved. It follows that the occasion of the making of both the oral complaint and the subsequent written complaint must be absolutely privileged.’
Ward LJ
[2008] EWCA Civ 818, Times 27-Aug-2008, [2009] QB 407, [2009] 2 WLR 838, [2009] 1 All ER 727, [2009] EMLR 2
England and Wales
Appeal fromWestcott v Westcott QBD 30-Oct-2007
The claimant said that his daughter in law had defamed him. She answered that the publication was protected by absolute privilege. She had complained to the police that he had hit her and her infant son.
Held: ‘the process of taking a witness . .
CitedEvans v London Hospital Medical College and Others 1981
The defendants employed by the first defendant carried out a post mortem on the plaintiff’s infant son. They found concentrations of morphine and told the police. The plaintiff was charged with the murder of her son. After further investigation no . .
CitedAlexandrovic v Khan QBD 2008
The public policy priority is that those who have complaints should be free to make them to the police without fear that they will be challenged in later proceedings even if those who are malicious obtain the benefit of such protection, since the . .
CitedMunster v Lamb CA 1883
Judges and witness, including police officers are given immunity from suit in defamation in court proceedings.
Fry LJ said: ‘Why should a witness be able to avail himself of his position in the box and to make without fear of civil consequences . .
CitedShufflebottom v Allday 1857
The defendant had been robbed. He described the robber to a constable who arrested the plaintiff. Seeing him in custody, the defendant said: ‘That is the man’. After having been remanded in custody for two days, the plaintiff was then acquitted . .
CitedWatson v M’Ewan HL 1905
A claim was brought against a medical witness in respect of statements made in preparation of a witness statement and similar statements subsequently made in court. The appellant was a doctor of medicine who had been retained by the respondent in . .
CitedLincoln v Daniels CA 1961
The defendant claimed absolute immunity in respect of communications sent by him to the Bar Council alleging professional misconduct by the plaintiff, a Queen’s Counsel.
Held: Initial communications sent to the secretary of the Bar Council . .
CitedHasselblad (GB) Ltd v Orbison CA 1985
In the course of proceedings brought by the European Commission against Hasselblad, Mr Orbison wrote a letter to the Commission upon which the appellant then sued for damages for libel. The court considered the dangers of national and European . .
CitedMarrinan v Vibert CA 2-Jan-1963
A tortious conspiracy was alleged in the conduct of a civil action. The plaintiff appealed against rejection of his claim.
Held: The appeal failed as an attempt to circumvent the immunity of a wirness in defamation by framing a claim in . .
CitedDaniels v Griffiths CA 27-Nov-1997
The claimant appealed against dismissal of his claim in defamation against the defendant. He was a prisoner convicted of rape and subject to life imprisonment. He sought parole, and said that the defendant had slandered him before the Parole Board. . .
CitedMahon, Kent v Dr Rahn, Biedermann, Haab-Biedermann, Rahn, and Bodmer (a Partnership) (No 2) CA 8-Jun-2000
The defendant’s lawyers wrote to a financial services regulatory body investigating the possible fraudulent conduct of the plaintiff’s stockbroking firm. The letter was passed to the Serious Fraud Office who later brought criminal proceedings . .
CitedTaylor and Others v Director of The Serious Fraud Office and Others HL 29-Oct-1998
The defendant had requested the Isle of Man authorities to investigate the part if any taken by the plaintiff in a major fraud. No charges were brought against the plaintiff, but the documents showing suspicion came to be disclosed in the later . .
CitedBuckley v Dalziel QBD 3-May-2007
There was a heated dispute between neighbours, culminating in some generous or perhaps over-generous pruning by the claimant of the defendant’s trees and shrubs on the boundaries. The defendants reported the matter to the police. Both Mr and Mrs . .
Leading CaseMartin v Watson HL 13-Jul-1995
The plaintiff had been falsely reported to the police by the defendant, a neighbour, for indecent exposure whilst standing on a ladder in his garden. He had been arrested and charged, but at a hearing before the Magistrates’ Court, the Crown . .
CitedD v National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children HL 2-Feb-1977
Immunity from disclosure of their identity should be given to those who gave information about neglect or ill treatment of children to a local authority or the NSPCC similar to that which the law allowed to police informers.
Lord Simon of . .
CitedA v The United Kingdom ECHR 17-Dec-2002
The applicant complained that the absence of legal aid to allow a challenge what had been said about her in Parliament by way of defamation, violated her right of access to court.
Held: The right to absolute parliamentary privilege was within . .

Cited by:
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 . .
CitedCrawford v Jenkins CA 24-Jul-2014
The parties had divorced but acrimony continued. H now complained of his arrests after allegations from his former wife that he had breached two orders. He had been released and no charges followed. The court had ruled that W’s complaints were . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 09 February 2021; Ref: scu.270814