Just published on the International Forum for Responsible Media (Inforrm) Blog – an article by yrstrly on what we can learn from the High Court defamation claims issued in 2020.
I scraped data from the HM Courts & Tribunal Service e-filing system and was able to extract some insights on how the Defamation Act 2013 and recent Court judgments have affected the kinds of claims made.
Nowy Czas is a newspaper that serves the Polish community of London. It is edited by Grzegorz and Teresa Malkiewicz.
Back in 2015 they published an article about a businessman. They discussed his historic business dealings and bankruptcy, and expressed concern at his involvement with two charitable organisations: The POSK cultural centre in Hammersmith, and the Kolbe House Care home in Ealing.
The gentleman in question sued the newspaper for libel, and the case was heard in 2017. Nowy Czassuccessfully defended the article, using the defences of ‘substantial truth’ (Defamation Act 2013, section 2) and ‘public interest’ (section 4).
Following the Lachaux case at the Supreme Court earlier this week, I wrote an op-ed for Press Gazette on its implications for free speech and press standards. Key paragraph:
After a period of uncertainty, the Lachaux judgment returns the section one standard to that applied in Cooke. The publisher’s response to a complaint can really make a difference to the “serious harm” assessment.
I was at the UK Supreme Court yesterday to hear the judgment in Lachaux v. Independent Print Ltd and another. It was a significant challenge to section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013, which long-term readers of this blog will recall was the (successful) end result of English PEN’s Libel Reform Campaign. Section 1 of the law introduced a test of ‘serious harm’ before a claimant could sue. It was designed to expand the space for free speech by weeding out trivial claims.
A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.
Jim Waterson of the Guardianreports a bizarre story of legal reputation managers at Schillings sending threatening letters to booksellers and independent book shops, in an effort to stop them stocking a book about an (allegedly) corrupt banker. I’m quoted near the end of the story, expressing my dismay:
Robert Sharp of English PEN, the free speech campaign group that co-founded the Libel Reform Campaign, said the decision by Low’s lawyers to target booksellerswas deeply worrying. “This is surprising, concerning and sets a terrible precedent,” he said. He argued that by focussing on the synopses, “the effect of these legal letters is to short-circuit the legal process, by putting booksellers in an impossible position”.