Associated Newspapers Ltd v Murray [2015]

This case of Associated Newspapers Ltd v Murray [2015] EWCA Civ 488 (15 May 2015) concerned an article which appeared on ‘Mail Online’ the 27th September 2013, the following day in the Daily Mail and, had professed to be based on an article written by the author JK Rowling on the Gingerbread website, the single parent charity of which she is President.

The article made allegations that the Claimant had in her story made false accusations against churchgoers she was working with, when a single parent in the 1990s, of “stigmatising her” or “cruelly taunting her”. Lady Justice Sharp in the Court of Appeal observed that it was not in dispute that the allegation made of the Claimant was both untrue and defamatory.

The Claimant had made strong objections to the article which she set out in her pre-action protocol letter sent by her Solicitors on the 21st October 2013.

The Defendant eventually made an offer of amends under s.2 of the Defamation Act 1996 for settlement of her libel claim and the Claimant accepted the Defendants unqualified offer of amends reserving the right for her to make a unilateral statement in open court.

CPR Part 53 para 6 allows the party who accepts the offer to apply to make a statement in open court which, under that practice direction, has firstly to be submitted for approval by the Court.  Justice Tugendhat on the 15th April 2014 gave permission to the Claimant to read a unilateral statement in open court in the form of the draft sent for approval.

Both parties could not agree on the wording for the apology or the correction to be printed and the Defendants put forward many objections to the draft unilateral statement to be read in open court. The Defendants appealed against the Order made by Justice Tugendhat and permission to appeal was given on the 7th May 2014.

The Defendants contended on appeal that the Judge should not have given his approval to a statement outside of that which the Claimant had pleaded as her case. They argued that she had given a different angle to the meaning complained of and made reference to damages which was not in her Particulars of Claim.

Once the appeal was granted, the Claimant made an open offer not to oppose the Defendants appeal as to the damages aspect in her statement. The only meaning in dispute from the statement was the word “dishonest” in the sentence numbered 3,

  • “The Claimant’s Gingerbread article was, in fact, neither false nor dishonest.”

Defendants’ counsel argued this was unfair to his client as the word “dishonest” did not appear in the pleadings and it gave a different meaning to that conceded by the Defendants in the unilateral offer of amends.

Lady Justice Sharp did not accept this. She referred to Claimant’s counsel when he contended that on reading the statement or hearing it read, it is quite clear that was the meaning being complained of. She continued that although that word did not appear in the Claimant’s pleading

  • “as Mr Rushbrooke submits, it impossible to see how the Claimant could have given an account which she knew to be false (and which contained false and inexcusable allegations against her fellow churchgoers) without being dishonest”.

Lady Justice Sharpe concluded that this was enough to deal with the one matter, the subject of the appeal.

Lady Justice Sharpe in her judgment referred to the principle in the case of Barnet v Crozier, which had been followed by the Judge and which she agreed with. Those parties who had settled a defamation action and request a statement to be read in open court should be permitted to do so unless it is apparent to the Judge from the statement before him that It should not be allowed, otherwise the statement should be allowed to be read in open court as long as it does not make it unfair to the other party for that to happen.

She continued that a Court would not intervene where there is no apparent unfairness or where it appears it is merely fault-finding by the other party. She referred to what the Judge had pointed out which was the party making that statement in open court is exercising their right of freedom of expression and that the Defendant would likewise have freedom to say about the settlement without the Claimant interfering. Further, the proceedings would be compromised if these disputes before settlement were allowed to interfere with the case being settled.

Lady Justice Sharpe observed that a

  • “claimant who has been wronged, and accepts an offer of amends is in no different position to any other claimant accepting an offer; and I do not accept that his or her rights about what can be said are somehow generally circumscribed, by dint of the general nature of the settlement”

Lords Justices Ryder and Longmore agreed with her.

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