High court ruling imposes new ‘threshold of seriousness’ for defamation

An interesting and significant ruling on defamation was yesterday made in the High Court; here’s a quick round-up from the reports.

Mr Justice Tugendhat dismissed the claim that part of Lynn Barber’s Daily Telegraph review of ‘Seven Days in the Art World’ by Sarah Thornton (in 2008, but no longer available online) was defamatory.

The Lawyer reports:

Thornton brought the defamation action against The Daily Telegraph after journalist Lynn Barber claimed in a review of Thornton’s book Seven Days in the Art World that the author gave her interviewees copy approval – a practice of which Barber said journalists disapproved.

TMG’s lawyer, David Price Solicitors & Advocates, said that the ruling was a judgement that “raised the threshold” for defamation.

In a statement, the solicitor says:

Solicitor Advocate David Price, acting for the Telegraph Group, successfully argued for a qualification, or threshold of seriousness, to be applied to defamation claims in order to prohibit trivial claims, thereby effectively raising the bar for claimants.

Mr Justice Tugendhat, accepting this argument gave a new definition of what may constitute defamation as follows [para 95 of Tugendhat judgment]:

“the publication of which he complains may be defamatory of him because it [substantially] affects in an adverse manner the attitude of other people towards him, or has a tendency so to do”.

Inclusion of the word “substantially” is crucial and is likely to set a higher bar for defamation cases in future.

The Inforrm blog also emphasises this point, stating that a “novel ‘threshold of seriousness'” had been entered into the legal definition of what constitutes a “defamatory” imputation. “The consequences are potentially far reaching,” it continues.

Read Inforrm’s full post and comment at this link…

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