The fair comment defence has been widened by the country’s most senior judges in the first defamation case to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Overturning an earlier decision handed down by Lord Justice Pill in the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court president Lord Phillips ruled that ‘fair comment’ should be renamed ‘honest comment’ and called for the Law Commission to review the law in defamation proceedings.
The decision represents a victory for David Price of David Price Solicitors & Advocates, who represented appellant 1131 Events in its challenge to the CoA ruling.
The promotions company faced a defamation claim from its former client, motown tribute band The Gillettes. It had been agreed that the promoter would represent the band, but when The Gillettes independently booked their own events the company posted a notice on its website announcing that it was no longer representing the group. The statement said that The Gillettes were not “professional enough to feature in our portfolio and have not been able to abide by the terms of their contract”.
The band immediately issued libel proceedings, alleging that the posting gave the impression they were unprofessional and unlikely to honour any bookings made for them to perform.
In their response, the appellant relied principally on the defence of justification and fair comment. The argument failed at the High Court, but the CoA reinstated the defence of justification only to reject the fair comment argument.
The Supreme Court has now overturned that decision and redefined fair comment in the process.
David Price of David Price Solicitors & Advocates appeared for appellants Spiller and others.
Reynolds Porter Chamberlain instructed One Brick Court’s Andrew Caldecott QC to act for intervenors Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, Times Newspapers and Guardian Media Group (GMG) in support of the appellants.
Pattinson & Brewer instructed 5RB’s William Bennett for respondents Joseph and others.