Justification – Facts sufficient to support plea – Claimant issuing proceedings against defendant for slander and libel – Whether claim being time-barred

In November 2011, the defendant was interviewed by the BBC and spoke of an incident involving a famous person (the BBC words) (see [8] of the judgment). In October 2012, the defendant gave an interview to ITV about the incident, identifying the claimant by name (the ITV words) (see [12] of the judgment).

The ITV words were subsequently broadcast in October and November (the ITV broadcasts), and the BBC words were broadcast in October (the BBC broadcast). The defendant further published an ebook, which referred to a comedian ‘F’ and, with other girls, being encouraged by ‘F’ and another to drink alcohol. In September 2013, the claimant comedian and entertainer issued proceedings against the defendant for slander and libel.

The issues for determination were, first, whether the defendant was liable for the BBC words and broadcast, in particular: (i) whether the claim as to the BBC words was time-barred; (ii) whether the limitation period should be extended under section 32A of the Limitation Act 1980; and (iii) whether the defendant was a co-publisher of the BBC broadcast.

Second, whether the defendant was liable for the ITV words and broadcast, in particular: (i) whether the ITV words had an innuendo meaning more serious than the natural and ordinary meaning; (ii) whether the claimant had proved special damage; (iii) whether the claimant was a co-publisher of the ITV broadcast; and (iv) whether the ITV words were true. Third, whether the defendant was liable for the words contained in the ebook, in particular: (i) whether the claimant was identified; and (ii) whether the words had been true.

The claim would be dismissed.

(1) With respect to the BBC words and broadcast, the claim form had been issued after more than the one year, which was the ordinary limitation period for defamation claims. The claimant had failed to establish that the equitable jurisdiction which he invoked under section 32A of the 1980 act ought to be exercised and the ordinary time limit would not be disapplied.

Accordingly, the claim in slander for the BBC words was time-barred and the defendant was not liable for any consequential loss caused by the BBC broadcast. Further, given the content of the BBC words, deliberately not having named the claimant and the promises the defendant had received that the claimant would not be identified, it was impossible to infer or imply any intention on the defendant’s part that a composite broadcast should take place which had identified the claimant. For the same reason, it could not be said that she had impliedly or inferentially authorised the BBC to put out such a composite broadcast.

Furthermore, it was not open to the claimant to argue that the defendant was liable as co-publisher on the basis that it had been reasonably foreseeable that the BBC words would be subsequently broadcast (see [43], [51], [52], [72]-[74] of the judgment).

The defendant was not liable as co-publisher of the BBC broadcast and the claimant’s claim for liable against the defendant for the BBC broadcast failed (see [78] of the judgment).

(2) With respect to the ITV words and broadcast, there was no dispute that the ITV words had been spoken by the defendant ‘of the claimant’.

While the claimant had not proved precisely the facts on which the innuendo meaning was based, he had established sufficient for an innuendo meaning which was more serious than the natural and ordinary meaning. The claimant could rely on two categories of slander which were actionable without proof of special loss, namely, the facts that the words had been calculated to disparage him in his profession and that he had committed an offence.

In one way or another, the defendant had indicated that she had been happy for ITV to use the material recorded in any way seen fit. Accordingly, she had been a co-publisher of the ITV broadcasts. However, on the evidence, the defendant’s account was true (see [80], [83], [84], [90], [93], [110] of the judgment).

The claims based on the ITV words and broadcasts failed (see [114] of the judgment).

(3) With respect to the ebook, the words were not identical to the ITV words, but the sting of the libel in the ebook was the same. Assuming that the reader would recognise the claimant as ‘F’, the defendant had proved the allegations to be true. Although the defendant had not proved the truth of the allegation that she and other underage girls had been encouraged to drink alcohol, the claimant’s reputation had not been materially affected because of the truth of the remaining charges.

However, the defendant did not need to rely on the defence of justification because the claimant had not been identified, and the claim was an abuse of process because it did not seek redress for a real and substantial tort, because the publication within the jurisdiction had been minimal or the damage to the claimant’s reputation by the publication had been insignificant (see [116]-[121] of the judgment).

The claim in relation to the ebook failed (see [122] of the judgment).

Jameel v Dow Jones & Co Inc [2005] All ER (D) 43 (Feb) applied; Dean Dunham (instructed by Debello Law Ltd) for the claimant; David Price QC (solicitor advocate of David Price Solicitors and Advocates) for the defendant.