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The introduction of honest comment in Libel

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Lawdit Solicitors - Expert Author

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25 June 2012

Joseph and others v Spiller and another [2010] UKSC 53

Background:

The case concerns the dispute between a group known as 'The Gillettes' (the claimants) and 1311 Events (the defendants), a provider of entertainment booking service. The claimants entered into a contract with the defendants in order to promote their performances. The contract hosted a re-engagement clause, which stated that further bookings at the same venue in the following 12 months had to be made through 1311 Events.

The defendants booked an event on behalf of the claimants at a restaurant in Leeds. Following this event the claimants booked and performed at another event within the same restaurant without consulting the defendants. When the defendants found out they emailed the claimants only to receive a response stating (among other things) that the contract was 'merely a formality and holds no water in legal terms'. This was then followed by online publication stating that:

"Events is no longer able to accept bookings for this artist as The Gillettes c/o Craig Joseph are not professional enough to feature in our portfolio and have not been able to abide by the terms of their contract."

Although originally the defendants were basing a defence on fair comment, this was struck out by the High Court followed by the Court of Appeal affirming its judgement. The Court of Appeal relied on Lord Nicholls' fourth proposition in relation to fair comment in Tse Wai Chun Paul v Cheng [2001] E.M.L.R. 31: "the comment must explicitly or implicitly indicate, at least in general terms, what are the facts on which the comment is being made. The reader or hearer should be in a position to judge for himself how far the comment was well founded".

Held:

Allowing an appeal, the UK Supreme Court stated that the proposition put forward by Lord Nicholls was incorrect and should be rewritten as: "the comment must explicitly or implicitly indicate, at least in general terms, the facts on which it is based." Furthermore, that the defence of fair comment should now be known as 'honest comment'.

Effects:

The defendant's solicitor David Price commented on the effects of the judgement as being "the removal of the necessity to provide a full factual basis for opinions expressed when relying on a defence of fair comment. No longer is it incumbent on the defendant to provide the facts on which the comment is based in sufficient detail so as to leave the reader in a position to judge for himself how far the comment was well-founded. In recognition of this the Supreme Court has re-named the defence from 'fair comment' to 'honest comment'".

The judgement in this case also shows recognition to the requirement of reform in this area, in order for it to reflect the current social and economic environment.


About the Author

Lawdit Solicitors offer services and advice for litigation, commercial contracts, Intellectual Property and IT legal agreements. We are experts in commercial law with a heavy emphasis on Intellectual Property, Internet and e-commerce law. Lawdit is a member of the International Trademark Association, the Solicitors' Association of Higher Court Advocates and we are the appointed Solicitors to the largest webdesign association in the world, the United Kingdom Website Designers Association.



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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2012-07-24 09:12:00 in Legal Articles

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