Law Report: Political information should not be privileged

Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd and others House of Lords (Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Steyn, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough) 28 October 1999

"POLITICAL INFORMATION" as a new subject matter category of qualified privilege, whereby the publication of all such information would attract qualified privilege whatever the circumstances, should not be created.

The House of Lords (Lord Steyn and Lord Hope dissenting) upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal that the defendants were not entitled to rely on qualified privilege in action for libel brought against them by the plainitff.

In November 1994 there was a political crisis in Dublin which culminated in the resignation of the plaintiff as Taoiseach of Ireland and leader of the Fianna Fil party. The reasons for the plaintiff's resignation were of public significance and interest in the United Kingdom because of his personal identification with the Northern Ireland peace process, of which he was one of the chief architects. He announced his resignation in the Dil of the Irish parliament on 17 November 1994.

On the following Sunday the Sunday Times published an article in its British mainland edition entitled "Goodbye gombeen man", and sub-headed "Why a fib too far proved fatal for the political career of Ireland's peacemaker and Mr Fixit". The plaintiff took strong exception to the article, and commenced proceedings for libel.

At the trial, the judge ruled that the defendants were not entitled to rely on qualified privilege. Their appeal against that ruling was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, which held that in deciding whether an occasion was privileged the court should consider, among other matters, the nature, status and source of the material published and the circumstances of the publication. In stressing the importance of those particular factors, the court treated them as matters going to a question ("the circumstantial test") separate from, and additional to, the conventional duty and interest questions, and held that, although the duty and interest tests were satisfied, the circumstantial test was not.

The defendants appealed, contending that a new category of privilege which derived from the subject matter alone, i.e. political information should be created, and that, malice apart, its publication should be privileged regardless of the status and source of the material.

Andrew Caldecott QC and Benjamin Hinchliff (Crockers Oswald Hickson) for the plaintiff; Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, James Price QC and Pushpinder Saini (Theodore Goddard) for the defendants.

Lord Nicholls said that the formulation by the Court of Appeal of three questions in deciding whether an occasion was privileged gave rise to conceptual and practical difficulties and was best avoided. There was no question separate from or additional to the duty and interest questions. Rather, the nature, status and source of the material and the circumstances of its publication were to be taken into account in deciding whether the duty and interest tests were satisfied.

The common law should not develop "political information" as a new subject matter category of qualified privilege, whereby the publication of all such information would attract qualified privilege, whatever the circumstances. That would not provide adequate protection for reputation. Moreover, it would be unsound in principle to distinguish political discussion from discussion of other matters of serious public concern.

The elasticity of the common law principle enabled interference with freedom of speech to be confined to what was necessary in the circumstances of the case. The court should be slow to conclude that a publication was not in the public interest, especially when the information was in the field of political discussion.

In the present case, whilst the subject matter of the article was undoubtedly of public concern in this country, the serious allegations against the plaintiff, presented as statements of fact but shorn of all mention of the plaintiff's considered explanation, were not information which the public had a right to know.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee