Relevance of reputation in libel action

This week sees "a businessman with substantial interests in commercial property in the London area" pursue his libel action against the Evening Standard over its suggestions that he had "a bad reputation for being part of an organised crime group and for violent criminal behaviour".

The case follows the publication by the paper of a story last year that suggested David Hunt was engaged in various property and other deals on behalf of an East End crime syndicate. Hunt issued a writ in August last year claming the paper had defamed him and not given him any or sufficient right of reply.

Having reached Mr Justice Tugendhat's court room on Friday, Hunt's counsel moved to get parts of the defence - which is running a justification claim - struck out.

The defence of justification requires the defendant to prove that the words used in an article etc are true both in substance and fact - i.e. if you accuse someone of being a 'gangster' or being part of an 'organised crime group' you have to show this to be the case as defamation law presumes that the defamatory words being complained about are in fact false unless/until the defence can show that they are in fact true.

So the Evening Standard will need to prove that its desription of Hunt is justified -i.e. true - and Hunt will - as Mr Justice Tugendhat reminded the court - be allowed to establish his reputation at the outset of the trial so that the court can assess to what extent his reputation will have been damaged by the defamation. So on day one it was 1:0 to Hunt after his counsel got parts of the defence relating to his character and known associates (in this particular case a deceased associate) struck out - i.e. they cannot be used as evidence to show that Hunt was part of a crime group.

Tugendhat added the pithy comment that it was not in question that Hunt had significant business interests in commercial property in the London area but the question was whether he was in fact a 'businessman'. The case continues.

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