We recently reported on the case of Wright v McCormack (see here), where we discussed the aspect of that case relating to the amendment of pleadings after the expiration of a limitation date. However, there is another interesting part of that case.
As stated in our previous blog, this case was a defamation case. The Claimant’s case was summarised by the Judge as follows:
“7. The Claimant is an Australian computer scientist and businessman based in England and Wales. He is active within the cryptocurrency sphere, running a number of cryptocurrency and blockchain businesses.
8. The Defendant is a podcaster and a blogger who specialises in publishing content about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, including on Twitter, where he has tens of thousands of followers. He also describes himself as a journalist.
9. Satoshi Nakamoto is the name used by the person or persons who developed Bitcoin and published some of the first work about it and about blockchains. It is presumed to be a pseudonym. The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto is a topic of considerable interest in the cryptocurrency community. In this judgment, I will refer to this person or group as ‘Satoshi’.
10. In summary, the Claimant says that the Defendant’s publications accused him of having fraudulently claimed to be Satoshi and that they caused him serious harm as a consequence, both to his reputation generally and also in specific wats (eg. that they resulted in him being disinvited from conferences).”
The Court considered an application to strike out parts of the defence and the evidence. One of the defences run by the Defendant was that the publications did not cause serious harm and that previous publications should be taken into account when assessing the level of any damage to the Claimant’s reputation. The Court considered the rule created in the case of Dingle v Associated Newspapers Limited . The Court helpfully summarised this rule as follows:
“150. The Daily Mail had published an article referring to a Parliamentary committee report which defamed the plaintiff but was covered by privilege. Other newspapers published the report also. The Daily Mail later published a similar article that was not privileged on which the plaintiff sued. The newspaper argued that damages should be reduced because of the first, privileged article, which had harmed the plaintiff’s reputation. The judge accepted this submission, but his decision was overturned on appeal to the House of Lords on the basis of what has become known as the rule in Dingle.
151. In Lachaux v Independent Print Limited  QB 402, [15(9)], Warby J gave the following general description of the rule:
“In the class of case – of which the present is an example – where many have published words to the same or similar effect, it is not legitimate for a defendant to seek to reduce damages by proving the publications of the defendant or others, and inviting an inference that those other publications have injured the claimant’s reputation.”…”
The Court undertook a very detailed analysis of the rule in Dingle and held that it should still stand. The logic of such a rule is set out at length but one scenario set out is very easy to understand:
‘If a man reads four newspapers at breakfast and reads substantially the same libel in each, liability does not depend on which paper he opens first. Perhaps one newspaper influences him more than another, but unless he can say he disregarded one altogether, then each is a substantial cause of the damage done to the plaintiff in his eyes.’
The rule in Dingle is not a bar on considering any previous matters relating to the Claimant’s conduct. It is clear that a Claimant can only be compensated for the level of his reputation that was damaged. The bar is on considering previous articles/publications about the Claimant’s reputation. There are other matters that can be submitted in evidence in respect of the Claimant’s character/reputation with a view to limiting the level of any damages in a defamation case.
Such evidence is helpfully summarised in the case of Lachaux v Independent Print Limited , in which Warby J confirmed:
“The decision in Dingle has not commanded universal agreement. To some, it seems no more than common sense that previous publications to the same or similar effect are relevant when assessing what damage to reputation has been caused by a given publication. The ratio of the decision is, however, not that it is irrelevant to consider the state of a person’s reputation at the time the words complained of are published.
The common law has always recognised that a person should only be compensated for injury to the reputation they actually possess. A defendant may prove in mitigation that a person has a bad reputation in the relevant sector of his life. The common law has however developed rules as to the means by which such a matter may be proved or, put another way, the evidence which is admissible to establish it. Previous publications to the same effect are inadmissible.
The court will admit evidence from individuals who can speak of how a person is or is not esteemed, in the relevant sector of his reputation, or evidence of a conviction or possibly some other single notorious event. Dingle is in my judgment properly understood as a reaffirmation of those long-established rules of common law, and the policy considerations that underlie them.”
So in summary, a Defendant cannot point to previous publications about a Claimant’s reputation but he can call witness evidence of people who know the Claimant and the level of his reputation or put in evidence previous relevant convictions or evidence of a single notorious event with a view to limiting the level of damages awarded by the Court in a defamation case.
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Should you be affected by any defamatory comments and wish to seek advice, please feel free to contact Kevin or another member of the team in Derby, Leicester, or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online enquiry form.Contact us