The facts in Flood v Times Newspapers
Detective Sergeant Flood (“the Respondent”) is an employee of the Metropolitan Police Service. The Respondent was investigated by the Metropolitan Police in 2006 for alleged corruption, with the investigation subsequently concluding that Sergeant Flood was not guilty of corruption. On 2 June 2006 The Times wrote an article on the Respondent which defamed him.
The High Court that the Respondent had been defamed but that the Appellant could rely on the Reynolds defence. The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s judgment, finding that the Appellant was not entitled to rely on the Reynolds defence. The Appellant subsequently appealed the decision to the Supreme Court on the principal point that a Reynolds defence applied.
The law relating to defamation
To succeed in a case for defamation a Claimant (the person or business defamed) must show on the balance of probabilities that:
- That a defamatory statement has been made (“defamation”)
- That this defamatory statement referred to the Claimant (“referral”)
- That this defamatory statement referring to the Claimant was published to a third party (“publication”)
Defamation occurs if a statement is published in permanent (libel) or semi-permanent (slander) form – respectively, for example, in a newspaper or by word of mouth. For a statement to be defamatory it must lower the Claimant in the eyes of right-thinking persons – essentially that it would reasonably damage the reputation of the Claimant.
The defamatory statement must refer to the Claimant and may be defamatory even if the offending statement does not mention the Claimant by name. Further, it is not even necessary that the Defendant (the person or business doing the defaming) should have intended that the statement refer to the Claimant (as in the “Artemus Jones” case).
Further, the defamatory statement referring to the Claimant must have been published to at least one other person other than the Claimant.
There are a number of defences available to a Defendant if the proving of defamation succeeds, including:
- Consent of the Claimant
- Fair comment
- Privilege (qualified and absolute)
The Appellant in this case was relying on qualified privilege as a defence. We will therefore now look at the component parts of this defence.
In order to succeed in demonstrating that the Reynolds defence applies a Defendant must demonstrate that:
- That the publication of the article within which the defamatory statement is contained is in the public interest; and
- That the Defendant has acted responsibly in publishing the information
The Supreme Court’s decision in Flood v Times Newspapers
The Supreme Court found that a defamatory statement referring to the Claimant had been published by the Appellant. It did, however, find that the Reynolds defence applied and that the Appellant was therefore protected from liability. The Supreme Court determined that the publication of the article was in the public interest as the story was of high public importance and that the publication had the legitimate aim of ensuring that a fair and thorough investigation was carried out by the Metropolitan Police. Lord Dyson further commented that the publication of stories of police corruption would generally fall under a Reynolds defence should the test of responsible journalism be met.