This article is taken from the BBC.

A judgement in Britain’s highest court has been hailed as a “landmark decision on free speech” and a major boost for investigative journalism in this country.

Lawyers say the ruling brings English libel law more into line with that in the United States, where the media have traditionally had greater freedom to write about public figures.

Five judges in the House of Lords overturned two judgments in lower courts requiring the Wall Street Journal Europe to pay £40,000 in libel damages to a billionaire Saudi businessman.

Mohammad Jameel, whose family owns a car dealership in Oxford, had sued the paper over a report that his bank account was being monitored by the Saudi authorities.

The story said he was one of several prominent Saudis whose financial affairs were being examined at the request of United States agencies, to ensure no money was channelled – intentionally or unknowingly – to support terrorists.

The paper argued in its defence that the story showed how strongly Saudi Arabia was working in the fight against terrorism.

It said printing the story was in the public interest, even if the allegations turned out to be untrue.

Legal defence

This concept of “qualified privilege” is known as the “Reynolds defence”, following a case brought by the former Irish prime minister, Albert Reynolds, against Times Newspapers in 1999.

The five law lords unanimously decided the Wall Street Journal story was in the public interest.

If ever there were a newspaper story which met the test it was this one, Lady Hale said.

“We need more such serious journalism in this country and our defamation law should encourage rather than discourage it,” she said.

Lord Hoffmann said: “The thrust of the article as a whole was to inform the public that the Saudis were cooperating with the US Treasury in monitoring accounts.

“It was a serious contribution in measured tone to a subject of very considerable importance.”

The key words are “serious” and “responsible”, says Mark Stephens, of the law firm Finer Stephens Innocent, who represented the Wall Street Journal in the case.

“This is a decision which will free responsible investigative journalists from threats of libel,” he said.

We need more such serious journalism in this country and our defamation law should encourage rather than discourage it

Lady Hale

But he said the public-interest defence would not protect kiss-and-tell “celebrity lover” stories.

Most previous attempts to apply the Reynolds defence have failed, so the judgment will give heart to those journalists and lawyers who have sought its protection.

In July, a leading British book publisher warned of the ‘chilling effect’ the law would have on journalism, after a judge rejected its defence of qualified privilege in a libel action brought by a former police officer.

The case was brought against Orion Publishing and the author Graeme McLagan, a former BBC home affairs correspondent, over their book ‘Bent Coppers’.

In a statement, Orion Publishing said it was “extremely surprised and disappointed” that its case had failed.

“The book Bent Coppers is a serious investigative work covering matters of major public concern” it said.

“If this judgment stands it will have a chilling effect on the ability of authors to write, and publishers to publish, comparable books in future.

This will in turn have a damaging effect on freedom of debate in this country.”

It remains to be seen whether this libel judgment – like the ones against the Wall Street Journal – will be overturned.

The full judgement here.

More reports from:


The Guardian



Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like

Indranee says stop thinking people in terms of social class but her boss wants SG to have natural aristocracy

Responding to a question on class divide at a dialogue yesterday (29…

Myanmar junta warns protesters could die, but more rallies

The Myanmar junta warned anti-coup protesters they could die but thousands of…

MDA “advised” local broadcasters not to air pro-gay song

In response to queries about the recent reported ban on a song…

金管局吁金融业栽培本地人才 银行坚称团队以国人为核心!

金融管理局市场与金融发展副局长罗恵燕,昨日(8月12日)呼吁金融机构,应遵循人力部的公平考量框架(Fair Consideration Framework),积极栽培有潜质的新加坡籍员工担任领导职务。 就在8月5日,人力部发文告揭发,有47雇主招聘员工未公平对待新加坡人;其中多达30个金融、专业服务行业的雇主,聘请的外籍PMET(专业人士、经理、行政人员和技术人员),大部分来自同一国家! 其中还有18家金融企业,PMET 过半都是外籍人士。 不过,对于金管局在昨日作出的呼吁,本地数家银行宣称,他们有强大的本地人核心雇员团队,也培育本地人才的渠道。 根据《海峡时报》报导,渣打银行称,该公司雇员近年从8千人扩增至1万人,其中新加坡籍员工就占了七成。同时,也培养新加坡籍的领导人才,70巴仙的管理团队都是国人组成。在全球和各区域,也有多达140位新加坡籍高管人才派赴海外。 星展银行则指出,该银行1万2千人的雇员中,90巴仙以上都是新加坡人和永久居民。该银行强调致力“培育本地员工,确保本地和外籍人才相辅相成。” 瑞银(UBS)则指出,她3千员工中,75巴仙都是本地人或永久居民。 至于汇丰银行则强调,85巴仙雇员都是新加坡人或永久居民,75巴仙的高级人员岗位,都由国人或永久居民执掌;华侨银行则声称,90巴仙雇员都是国人和永久居民。  …