|[Home] [Databases] [World Law] [Multidatabase Search] [Help] [Feedback]|
England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales Court of Appeal (Civil Division) Decisions >> Elliott v Rufus  EWCA Civ 121 (20 February 2015)
Cite as:  EWCA Civ 121
[New search] [View without highlighting] [Printable RTF version] [Help]
ON APPEAL FROM THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LADY JUSTICE SHARP
MR JUSTICE MITTING
| Paul Elliott
|- and -
WordWave International Limited
A Merrill Communications Company
165 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2DY
Tel No: 020 7404 1400, Fax No: 020 7831 8838
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
Jonathan Barnes (instructed by Simon Smith, Solicitor) for the Respondent
Hearing date: 10 December 2014
Crown Copyright ©
Lady Justice Sharp :
"14. The legal principles relevant to meaning…may be summarised in this way: (1) The governing principle is reasonableness. (2) The hypothetical reasonable reader is not naïve but he is not unduly suspicious. He can read between the lines. He can read an implication more readily than a lawyer and may indulge in a certain amount of loose thinking but he must be treated as being a man who is not avid for scandal and someone who does not, and should not, select one bad meaning where other non-defamatory meanings are available. (3) Over elaborate analysis is best avoided. (4) The intention of publisher is irrelevant. (5) The article must be read as a whole and any 'bane and antidote' taken together. (6) The hypothetical reader is taken to be representative of those who would read the publication in question. (7) In delimiting the range of permissible defamatory meanings, the court should rule out any meaning which, 'can only emerge as the product of some strained, or forced or utterly unreasonable interpretation…"…(8) It follows that 'it is not enough to say that by some person or another the words might be understood in a defamatory way."
"A statement should be taken to be defamatory if it would tend to lower the plaintiff in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally or would be likely to affect a person adversely in the estimation of reasonable people generally."
"29. In the end there was not much serious dispute about the potential meaning of the press release in the context of the Sun article, because it was accepted that the clear meaning was that Mr Rufus had made public the text message.
30. That then leaves the issue of whether the meaning set out in paragraph 29 above can be defamatory, and whether right-thinking members of society would consider Mr Elliott's use of the word so wrong that they would not think any the less of Mr Rufus for having made it public.
31. In my judgment right-thinking members of society are well aware: (a) of the ordinary weaknesses and failings of mankind; (b) that in private communications between former friends, even the most well-intentioned and hard-working people (such as Mr Elliott), might say things which should never be said. In these circumstances right-thinking members of society could, in my judgment, take the view that sending a private communication to the public, with the inevitable consequence that the former friend would lose his office, was both disloyal and wrong.
32. Therefore right-thinking members of society might conclude that the press release was, in its context, defamatory. This would be because in their judgment it meant that Mr Rufus had acted disloyally to his former friend by making public his private text message, in which Mr Elliott had used an extremely offensive and wrong word. This was in circumstances where Mr Rufus was not reporting the text to any relevant authorities, but to the public.
33. Although the pleaded meaning in the Particulars of Claim might be considered somewhat elaborate (and it is only fair to point out that Mr Barnes was not responsible for the pleading), I reject the Defendant's submission that the words betrayal or dishonour have been tacked on to create a defamatory meaning, as the words are capable of meaning that Mr Rufus acted disloyally. I also reject the submission that the pleaded word "private" before the text adds nothing. The press release referred to making the text "public", and, as appears above, right-thinking members of society might consider that the words meant that Mr Rufus had acted disloyally to his former friend by making public his private text message, in which Mr Elliott had used an extremely offensive and wrong word. I do not consider that this is the most serious of libels, but the words are capable of being defamatory.
34. I should record that in ascertaining the meaning, and in assessing whether the meaning is capable of being defamatory, I have taken no account of what Mr Elliott himself appeared to have intended to say by issuing the press release, and have not taken account of the online comments reported in the Particulars of Claim.
Mr Justice Mitting:
Lord Justice McCombe: