Lynn Barber libel judgment

A good week then for Lynn Barber and her employers at the Telegraph, as a libel case brought against the newspaper by author Sarah Thornton was dismissed by Mr Justice Tugendhat.

Legal blogger Jack of Kent draws particular attention to point 89 of the ruling, of which he says: “it appears that the Mr Justice Tugendhat has effectively introduced a substantial harm test for libel.”

I accept [The Telegraph’s] submission that whatever definition of “defamatory” is adopted, it must include a qualification or threshold of seriousness, so as to exclude trivial claims.

The question of seriousness of a libel case is echoed in the part of Lord Lester’s Defamation Bill that deals with proof of substantial damage:

(1) The court must strike out an action for defamation unless the claimant shows that—
(a) the publication of the words or matters complained of has caused substantial harm to the claimant’s reputation; or
(b) it is likely that such harm will be caused to the claimant’s reputation by the publication.

It is certain that a lot of time, money, and pain can be saved if these principles — whether from court rulings or mooted legislation — are properly applied.

But neither principle is yet enshrined as law (though we may hope that Judge Tugendhat’s judgment becomes a point of reference).

Incidentally, it is well worth reading the Telegraph decision, as it provides an excellent overview of the shifting definitions of defamation over the years.