The decision of the Court of Appeal in Regan v Taylor is an important one for solicitors who are these days frequently called on by clients to deal with the media.
The case concerned a claim by Simon Regan, editor of the now defunct satirical magazine Scallywag against defamation solicitor Barton Taylor over comments he made to a Welsh newspaper in 1994 about Scallywag. Scallywag had published an article gravely defamatory of Taylor's client.
The case at first instance was heard on the first day of the introduction of the Civil Procedure Rules under Part 24 provision that "there was no reasonable prospect of succeeding in the claim" because the defence of qualified privilege was bound to succeed. The trial judge struck the claim out. Regan appealed.
The Court of Appeal decision confirms that solicitors have the same protection as their clients when responding to an attack on a client's reputation.
This is not a new principle of law as the 1894 case of Baker v Carrick held that: "It is the duty of a solicitor to do all he can to protect the interests of his clients and he stands in the same position with regard to privilege as that in which his client would stand in the case of a similar action against him."
But it was an important modern day confirmation of the principle at a time when solicitors often have to deal with surprise attacks.
In Regan v Taylor, Lord Justice Henry confirmed "the importance of the implied general authority to do your best for your client".
Lord Justice May, who gave the lead judgment, was satisfied that this was not: "A licence to libel as it was not a licence to agents to publish indiscriminate personal opinions but simply an application of the principle that a person may publish statements by an agent and that the agent, provided he was within the general scope of his authority, has the same privilege as that of his principle."
This decision confirms solicitors can, when dealing with the media on behalf of their clients, respond to an attack robustly.
Sarah Webb is a commercial partner at Russell Jones & Walker.