A Court of Appeal ruling has dealt a blow to hopes that the 2013 Defamation Act would raise the bar to libel actions in England and Wales courts. In Bruno Lachaux v Independent Print Limited and Evening Standard Limited, and Bruno Lachaux v AOL (UK) Limited, the court dismissed an appeal by publishers against a High Court finding that a French national living in Dubai had been caused ‘serious harm’ by the publication of allegations by his former wife.
The decision has been seen as a landmark interpretation of section 1 of the 2013 act, which introduced a requirement for claimants to prove that a publication had caused or was likely to cause serious harm to their reputation. The threshold was designed to tilt the balance of defamation law in favour of freedom of expression and deter forum-shopping by claimants with little connection with the UK.
Jonathan Coad, consultant at business law firm Keystone Law, who acted for AOL, said the appeal judges had ignored the wishes of parliament. ’It was clear that the three Court of Appeal judges disapproved of the first major intervention of parliament into the law of defamation, and were determined to prioritise their own views about what the law should be. This is a major set-back for free speech.'
David Price QC, who acted for The Independent and Evening Standard declined to comment in detail, but said: ’It will certainly be good for business in the libel industry.’
However Daniel Taylor, of defamation and privacy specialist firm Taylor Hampton Solicitors, who acted for Bruno Lachaux, said the judgment would have the effect of simplifying procedures and cutting costs. By ruling that 'serious reputational harm is capable of being proved by a process of inference' the court had removed the necessity for lengthy and costly evidential hearings on the matter, he said. 'We welcome today’s significant ruling from the Court of Appeal which will have the effect of reducing the time and cost of libel actions going forward'.
The defendants in the claim have applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Andrew Caldecott QC, Manuel Barca QC and Hannah Ready, instructed by Lewis Silkin appeared for AOL UK; David Price QC, instructed by David Price Solicitors and Advocates for Independent Print Limited and Evening Standard Limited; Adrienne Page QC and Godwin Busuttil, instructed by Taylor Hampton, for Bruno Lachaux.