Libelling a Lord Justice - how the Telegraph got it wrong

Libel actions invariably feature a footballer or lower grade celebrity and the higher circulation tabloid press but here we have a case of a conservative broadsheet - the Telegraph - deciding and failing to check - that it was acceptable to call into question the ruling of one of the country's top judges in relation to a care home.

While it is part of the remit of the press as part of the democratic process to scrutinise the administration of justice and so judges, such scrutiny does not extend to repeating what had already been found to be untrue allegations in a national newspaper. In the current case there had already been a complaint made to the OJC - Office for Judicial Complaints - about Lord Justice Sedley's handling of the particular case. Such complaint had been dismissed as entirely unfounded yet the Telegraph decided to report and so repeat the unfounded complaint which - given it was calling into question not just a judgment but the consequences of such judgment -was particularly defamatory.

Mediabeak considers that to the extent the judiciary are reluctant to contribute to their workload by initiating cases, this was an instance where the decision to publish the report seems as unconsidered as the original complaint to the OJC. The dismissal of the complaint by the OJC should have alerted the Telegraph to the fact that what it decided to report was unfounded and therefore in proceeding to publish it was in fact proceeding to libel.

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