Strike-out of public-interest defence reversed on appeal in Rachel Riley case

Posted: July 7, 2021

The Court of Appeal has ruled that the lack of detail in a public-interest defence, which was deemed “imperfectly pleaded”, was not a good-enough reason to dismiss it before a full trial.[1]  Conversely, the court dismissed the defendant’s appeal against the strike-out of his truth and honest-opinion defences.

Background

The Court of Appeal judgment considered the public-interest defence under section 4 of the Defamation Act 2013 in a libel case brought by Rachel Riley against Michael Sivier, the author of an article on his blog, Vox Political.  The meaning of the article had been held to be defamatory by Mr Justice Nicklin in a preliminary hearing, and the defendant had filed a defence on the basis of truth, honest opinion and public interest.  Ms Riley had been successful in her application to strike out all defences, but Mr Sivier was later successful in his appeal to reinstate the defence of public interest. 

Comment

Lord Justice Warby pointed out that an “important function” of the section 4 defence is “to protect those who honestly and reasonably get their facts wrong when publishing on matters of public interest”.  He stressed that striking out a defence was a drastic action.  The judges found that, without having sight of the articles referred to by Mr Sivier in his article, they were not capable of establishing the reasonableness of Mr Sivier’s belief that publication was in the public interest, and that the appropriate time to make that determination would be at trial.

The case will now continue to trial.

Jon Oakley, Partner and Alexandra Vyvyan, Trainee Solicitor, Simkins LLP

To read the full article, click here.  Written for Entertainment Law Review.

To read our earlier bulletin about the case, click here.

[1] Riley v Sivier [2021] EWCA Civ 713.