Reynolds v Times Newspapers in 1999 was one of the most important
cases in libel law history. It acknowledged that there were certain
stories of such public interest that the media, as the watchdogs
of the public, had a duty to report them and the public at large
had a vested interest in reading them.The ruling granted qualified
privilege to those public interest stories provided the publisher
had taken reasonable steps to ensure that what was published was
accurate and fit for publication.
be no protection for accusations made in a casual, cavalier, slipshod
or careless manner.Ten pointers were given to how the test for responsible
journalism would be assessed. But the defence, in the words of one
legal expert, was in danger of withering away when the ten pointers
were applied to stories by judges hostile to the spirit of Reynolds
It took the House of Lords judgement in the Jameel v Wall Street
Journal case to revitalise the defence.
the inherent uncertainty attaching to the Reynolds defence was illustrated
in Flood v Times Newspapers.The Court of Appeal overturned an earlier
High Court decision to grant the Times Reynolds privilege after
they printed allegations of corruption against a police officer.The
three judges sitting in the Court of Appeal said that the newspaper
had not done enough to verify the information they had received
from their sources. The trial judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, thought
the paper had.
Butterworth, the former readers' editor at The Guardian who is now
practising as a lawyer, commented: "Flood's case shows it is
perfectly possible (likely even) for a careful and thoughtful judge
to come to one decision about what constitutes responsible journalism
and for three appeal judges to arrive at a completely different
conclusion on the same facts. That makes the Reynolds privilege
defence so uncertain as to be of little practical use."
are the House of Lords judgements in both the Reynolds and the Jameel
cases plus a story from The Guardian which underlines the importance
of the Jameel ruling....
of Lords - Reynolds v. Times Newspapers Limited and Others
lords give media shield against libel in landmark ruling | Media
| The Guardian
of Lords - Jameel and others (Respondents) v. Wall Street Journal
Europe Sprl (Appellants)
..... then Ms Butterworth's commentary on the Flood case.
libel ruling shows Reynolds privilege is of little practical use
| Siobhain Butterworth | Law | guardian.co.uk