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Libel damages: Cairns v Modi and KC v MGN Ltd

November 7, 2012

The two cases of Cairns v Modi and KC v MGN Ltd  [2012] EWCA Civ 1382 were joined for the purposes of appeal against awards of libel damages made in favour of the Respondents.

The facts of  Cairns and  KC v MGN Ltd are set out in the Queens Bench decision. In the case of Cairns, the Judge had awarded £15,000 to reflect the “sustained and aggressive assertion” of the plea of justification. The total sum awarded was £90,000.

In the case of MGN Limited, the newspaper had been sued by the father of “Baby P”.  The Judge awarded £150,000 Libel damages.  The award was reduced by 50% because of the Defendants use of the offer of amends procedure.

In the case of Cairns v Modi, the argument was that the publication via Twitter was so limited that the amount of compensation awarded was excessive and disproportionate.

In the KC case, MGN argued that the Judge should have given greater consideration to the fact that the father was anonymous.

In the Cairns v Modi case, the Judge said  regard had to be taken of  modern communication, and the “percolation phenomenon” which meant that the true reach of the publication would be far wider than just the original publishees. This was relevant  when assessing damages.

The argument that damages should be less as a consequence of a Judge alone giving a reasoned judgement rather than a jury was not accepted.  The court held that most lay observers would not read the detailed judgement and were more interested in finding out what sum had been awarded.

The sum awarded to Cairns was proportionate considering the seriousness of the allegation.

However, in the matter of KC , the Appeal Court felt that too much importance had been given to the large circulation of the paper, than with regard to the fact that he remained anonymous throughout.  The amount of damages were therefore reduced to £100,000, and with the subsequent 50% reduction as a consequence of the offer of amends procedure, the amount awarded was only £50,0000.

It does seem odd that in the Cairns case whilst the publication on Twitter was limited the court recognised that the allegations could go viral. There was no evidence however that they had or no doubt that the extent of publication would have been put before the court because surely it could have been demonstrated.

In the case of KC v MGN the court had originally been more concerned with the fact the the piece had been in a national newspaper with a large publication and less concerned that the father was anonymous in the proceedings and the amount of people who had known it was him would have been limited. A sensible decision by the Court.