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UKSC hears case on malicious falsehood claims with implications for press freedom

UKSC hears case on malicious falsehood claims with implications for press freedom

The UK Supreme Court has heard argument over two days in the case of George v Cannell and another. The question the Court has to decide is – What does a claimant need to demonstrate to rely on s3(1) of the Defamation Act 1952 in a claim for malicious falsehood?

The Facts

The respondent sued the appellants for libel, slander and malicious falsehood. The respondent had worked as a recruitment consultant for an agency, the second appellant,  owned and operated by the first appellant. After the respondent moved to a different agency, the first appellant spoke to one of the respondent’s clients and sent an email to her new employer alleging that she was acting in breach of restrictions in her contact with the second appellant which prevented her from contacting their clients.  This appeal to the Court concerns the claim for malicious falsehood.

The claim for malicious falsehood was dismissed at trial on the basis the respondent had not proved special damage as required by the common law or demonstrated that her case fell within an exception to that requirement contained in s3(1) of the Defamation Act 1952.

The Court of Appeal overturned that finding.

Our Intervention

Media Defence was granted permission to intervene in the case and filed written comments submitting that the Court of Appeal’s narrowly focused test for s.3(1) of the Defamation Act 1952 makes malicious falsehood a more attractive cause of action in cases where there has been little or no loss or other harm. Our concern is that this interpretation will result in an unacceptable chilling effect on the exercise by the press of its right to free expression.

Our intervention can be found here.

For more information contact our Legal Director Pádraig Hughes at padraig.hughes@mediadefence.org

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