21 October 2019


International Cases

Lachaux (Respondent) v Independent Print Ltd and another (Appellants)

United Kingdom

12.06.2019

Tort

Claimant’s reputation is harmed at time of publication notwithstanding that, reader knows nothing about him other than what the publication tells him

In present case, the claimant, Bruno Lachaux, is a French aerospace engineer who at the relevant time lived with his British wife Afsana in the United Arab Emirates. The marriage broke down, and in April 2011, he began divorce proceedings in the UAE courts and sought custody of their son Louis. In March 2012, Afsana went into hiding with Louis in the UAE, claiming that she would not get a fair trial in its courts. In August 2012, the UAE court awarded custody of Louis to his father.

In February 2013, Mr Lachaux initiated a criminal prosecution against Afsana for abduction. In October of that year, having found out where Louis was, he took possession of him under the custody order. In January and February 2014, a number of British newspapers published articles making allegations about Mr Lachaux’s conduct towards Afsana during the marriage and in the course of the divorce and custody proceedings. These appeals arise out of two libel actions begun by him in the High Court on 2 December 2014 against the publishers of the Independent and the Evening Standard, and a third begun on 23 January 2015 against the publisher.

In February 2015, Eady J conducted a meaning hearing. In a reserved judgment, he held that the article in the Independent bore eight defamatory meanings, and the article in the Evening Standard 12. In summary, the articles were held to have meant that, Mr Lachaux had been violent and abusive towards his wife during their marriage, had hidden Louis’ passport to stop her removing him from the UAE, had made use of UAE law and the UAE courts to deprive her of custody and contact with her son, had callously and without justification taken Louis out of her possession, and then falsely accused her of abducting him. For the purpose of the trial of the issue before of serious harm, which took place before Warby J in July 2015, the newspapers did not contest the primary facts set out in Mr Lachaux’s Particulars of Claim. Their case was that the statements in the articles were not defamatory because they did not meet the threshold of seriousness in Section 1(1) of the Defamation Act, 2013. The Court of Appeal preferred Mr Lachaux’s construction of Section 1, but they upheld the judge’s finding of serious harm.

Section 1 of the Act, 2013, provides that, a statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant. For the purposes of this section, harm to the reputation of a body that trades for profit is not ‘serious harm’ unless it has caused or is likely to cause the body serious financial loss.”

In the High Court, Warby J based his finding of serious harm on (i) the scale of the publications; (ii) the fact that the statements complained of had come to the attention of at least one identifiable person in the United Kingdom who knew Mr Lachaux and (iii) that they were likely to have come to the attention of others who either knew him or would come to know him in future; and (iv) the gravity of the statements themselves, according to the meaning attributed to them by Sir David Eady. The judge’s finding was based on a combination of the meaning of the words, the situation of Mr Lachaux, the circumstances of publication and the inherent probabilities.

Warby J’s task was to evaluate the material before him, and arrive at a conclusion on an issue on which precision will rarely be possible. A concurrent assessment of the facts was made by the Court of Appeal. Findings of this kind would only rarely be disturbed by this court, in the absence of some error of principle potentially critical to the outcome.

The claimant’s reputation is harmed at the time of publication notwithstanding that the reader or hearer knows nothing about him other than what the publication tells him. It cannot make any difference that it is only later, when he comes to know the claimant personally, that the latter’s diminished reputation is of any personal interest to him. Appeal dismissed.

Tags : Article Publication Reputation Diminishing of

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