On 17 May 2019, the Court of Appeal handed down a judgment in which the decision of the court at first instance has been reversed. The appeal was brought by Polish businessman Jan Serafin following the dismissal of his claim for libel in respect of an article which he asserted made 14 defamatory allegations against him.
In relation to the section 4 (of the Defamation Act 2013) ‘public interest’ defence, the Court of Appeal considered the concept of ‘public interest’ generally, the applicability of the section 4 defence, and the continued relevance of Lord Nicholls’ checklist set out in Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd  EMLR. At paragraph 48, the judgment states:
“When considering whether or not an article is in the public interest, the Court needs to consider not merely the bare subject-matter, but also the context, timing, tone, seriousness and all other relevant factors. In this respect, Lord Nicholls’ check-list in the Reynolds case remains relevant not only to the issue of whether the journalist acted responsibly, but also the issue of the existence of public interest in the article.”
As to the question of whether the Defendants reasonably believed the statements made in the article to be in the public interest, the Court of Appeal stated that it is a basic requirement of fairness and responsible journalism that the subject of a story be given the opportunity to put their side across and concluded that there was, on the facts of this particular case, no reason why the Defendants could not have contacted the Claimant in advance of publication to ask for his comments.
The decision contains useful commentary in relation to the section 4 ‘public interest’ defence and reaffirms that the principles set out in Reynolds remain as important as ever.
Rose Croshaw, Associate
The full judgment can be found here.