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England and Wales High Court (Queen's Bench Division) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Queen's Bench Division) Decisions >> Hamilton & Anor v Clifford  EWHC 1542 (QB) (22 June 2004)
Cite as:  EWHC 1542 (QB)
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QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
B e f o r e :
190 Fleet Street London EC4A 2AG.
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838.
(Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)
MR P MOLONEY QC AND MS C EVANS (instructed by Clintons, London WC2B) appeared on behalf of the DEFENDANT
Crown Copyright ©
MR JUSTICE EADY:
The factual background to the litigation
The words complained of
"The police were looking into it. The fact that after three months' investigation they decided to bring the Hamiltons in -- you make your own conclusions."
"It's a difficult question really. Obviously the fact of what happened on Friday would tend to suggest that the police believe there is something in all this because they have been working on it for a few months".
" .... It did have sexual implications and did involve the Hamiltons but it was nothing criminal.
Secondly, you know as to whether the Hamiltons are telling the truth or not, I don't know. It's up to them. All I can say to you is this, that if I had allegations put against me at the beginning of May, I would check very carefully where I was on that day -- three months ago. They suddenly remembered they were at Claridges, very strange.
Yeah, but they had over three months and they'd forgotten all about that and Christine said a few minutes ago we've never been at Claridges before. Would you not think that if you were accused of something serious, you would very carefully analyse where you were at that time?
So you know, you make up your own minds and the public will. All I would say is that when it comes to judging who's telling the truth I totally believe what the young lady told me. The police obviously believe there is something in it they wouldn't have spent all this time investigating. And what I would also say is that to who's telling the truth, their colleagues, his colleagues in Parliament when they said the same thing about Cash for Questions didn't believe them, who does believe them? Very few people, certainly the public don't. They were found guilty by their own colleagues the people that he worked with for many years, what does that say about?"
"Nadine telephoned me after leaving the police station to say that, contrary to a press report, investigations were very much ongoing. The appointment was arranged some time ago. She said she was very happy with the police reaction and believes more than ever that she will face the Hamiltons in court."
The article continued:
"Mr Clifford ... added that officers had denied reports that the Hamiltons' mobile records had put them in the clear."
"My client is pleased with how her police interview has gone and I am confident the case will go to trial. She was accompanied by her father for a routine discussion about the case. The investigation is ongoing and she was pleased with the discussion she had with them. She is more than ever convinced that she will face the Hamiltons in court."
"Miss Milroy-Sloan is more confident that than ever she will have her day in court with the Hamiltons."
"She was pleased with the discussion she had with the police. She is more than ever convinced she will face the Hamiltons in court."
The pleaded issues.
A summary of the present applications
The repetition rule
" ... a rule of law specifically designed to prevent a jury from deciding that a particular class of publication - a publication which conveys rumour, hearsay, allegation, repetition, call it what one will - is true or alternatively bears a lesser defamatory meaning than would attach to the original allegation itself. By definition, but for the rule, those findings would otherwise be open to the jury on the facts; why else the need for a rule of law in the first place?"
"I am satisfied that it is a rule of law which governs not only meaning, but also the pleading and proof of a defence of justification. Stern v. Piper is a very good illustration, since the ultimate decision was that the defence of justification should be struck out. Moreover, I consider that the repetition rule reflects a fundamental canon of legal policy in the law of defamation dating back nearly 170 years, that words must be interpreted, and the imputations they contain justified, by reference to the underlying allegations of fact and not merely by reliance upon some second-hand report or assertion of them."
The Lucas-Box meaning in the present case
"what is the meaning that the words convey to the ordinary man: you cannot make a rule about that."
It is to a large extent a matter of impression but always subject to the caveat of Sedley LJ in Berezovsky v Forbes Inc  EWCA Civ 1251 at  for judges grappling with such issues at the pre-trial stage. It is a matter of impression, in a sense, but at one remove. I must not substitute my own impression as a reader for that of the jury. I can only exclude a Lucas-Box meaning if it would either offend against the repetition rule or can be categorised as such that no reasonable person could so construe the relevant words. It is "an exercise in generosity, not in parsimony" (per Sedley LJ, ibid).
The plea of justification
"A defendant may, for example, rely on strong circumstantial evidence implicating the claimant which might amount objectively speaking to the requisite grounds for reasonable suspicion." (check)
To that extent, therefore, it may be said that the conduct rule is not a "rule" at all. Moreover, submits Mr Moloney, since Brooke LJ in that passage used the words "for example", it must follow that there could be other examples. Mr Moloney has to rely on that particular straw in the wind because he does not have any circumstantial evidence to rely upon, let alone "strong circumstantial evidence".
"[Mr Hamilton's] general bad reputation as an untruthful and unreliable person whose Parliamentary career had ended under a cloud of sleaze and who had unsuccessfully brought libel proceedings."
I do not need to try to ascribe a clear meaning to the phrase "cloud of sleaze". Its obscurity is perhaps convenient in some ways, but although it might serve in a tabloid headline it has no place in a plea of justification.
The defence of fair comment
"A defendant should not be required to justify value judgments or opinions expressed on matters of public interest as though they were matters of objectively verifiable fact."
See also at .
" .... the police investigation and subsequent arrest of the Claimants gave rise to grounds to suspect the Claimants and each of them of guilt of those criminal offences."
That is expressed to be an opinion held by the defendant. It is also said to have been expressed on a matter of public interest, identified as being " .... the allegations of serious criminal offences made by Miss Milroy-Sloan against the Claimants, who are well-known public figures."
"If you are attacked with a deadly weapon you can defend yourself with a deadly weapon or with any other weapon which may protect your life. The law does not concern itself with niceties in such matters. If you are attacked by a prize fighter you are not bound to adhere to the Queensberry rules in your defence."
Per Lord Oaksey in Turner v MGM Pictures  1 All ER 449, 470-1: see also Watts v Times Newspapers Ltd  QB 650 at 671.
The Scott v Sampson plea