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The facts are stated in the opinion of Lord Keith of Kinkel. So, too, can trade unions: Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union v Times Newspapers Ltd [1980] QB 585. There is no reason in logic or principle to distinguish the plaintiff from these bodies. The rationale for permitting persons other than individuals to sue for libel thus applies with equal force to local authorities. Balcombe LJ, giving the leading judgement in the Court of Appeal, summarised the facts thus [1992] QB 770, 802:"The facts in the case are fortunately refreshingly simple.

Each of these bodies, although having only legal personality, has a legitimate entitlement to protect its reputation from defamatory attacks. Bognor Regis Urban District Council v Campion [1972] 2 QB 169 remains good authority for the proposition that a local authority has a "governing" reputation, which it can protect by an action for libel. Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1953) (Cmd. 407 and Oberschlick v Austria, , Publications of the European Court of Human Rights, Series A No. Even if the question were to be asked in the abstract, a thorough investigation of the aims and effect of domestic law would show that the English law of defamation strikes a balance between the rights of protection for reputation and of freedom of expression. In two issues of 'The Sunday Times' newspaper on 17 and 24 September 1989 there appeared articles concerning share deals involving the superannuation fund of the Derbyshire County Council.

JJ.) [1992] QB 770 allowing an appeal by the defendants, Times Newspapers Ltd, Andrew Neil, the editor of "The Sunday Times," and Rosemary Collins and Peter Hounam, two of the newspaper's journalists, from the order of Morland J. In exercising its powers and carrying out its functions as a county council, the plaintiff has a reputation that is distinct from that of its individual members or officers. It is not necessary for the corporation to prove actual damage: South Hetton Coal Co Ltd v North-Eastern News Association Ltd [1894] 1 QB 133. The need for a local authority to be able to sue for libel to protect its reputation is a real and pressing one. The plaintiffs cannot rely on section 222(1) of the Local Government Act 1972, since their proceedings are not capable of promoting or protecting the interests of the inhabitants of Derbyshire generally and they constitute an unnecessary interference with free expression. There is no legal aid and proceedings are notoriously costly. Lord Keith of Kinkel: My Lords, this appeal raises, as a preliminary issue in an action of damages for libel, the question whether a local authority is entitled to maintain an action in libel for words which reflect on it in its governmental and administrative functions.

[1992] QB 770 holding, on a preliminary issue, that the plaintiff could maintain a cause of action in libel against the defendants in respect of articles in issues of "The Sunday Times" dated 17 and 24 September 1989. At common law trading corporations can sue for libel: Metropolitan Saloon Ombibus Co Ltd v Hawkins (1859) 4 H. Non-trading corporations can also sue: National Union of General and Municipal Workers v Gillian [1946] KB 81. Damage to its reputation may make it more difficult for the authority to borrow money or tender for contracts, and may disaffect its staff or deter participation in its pension scheme. The plaintiff does not have to prove his claim beyond reasonable doubt. That is the way the preliminary point of law was expressed in the order of the master, but it has opened out into an investigation of whether a local authority can sue for libel at all.

It is subject to restrictions which are prescribed by law, or necessary in a democratic society, or necessary for the protection of the reputation or rights of others. The defence of fair comment gives a wide protection to the newspaper. Where a statute confers an apparently unfettered power on a minister to restrict free expression, the common law principles of statutory interpretation require the restriction to be closely scrutinised and to be justified as necessary to protect an important competing public interest: see Reg. 445 and Hector v Attorney-General for Antigua and Barbuda [1990] 2 AC 312.] The application of the Bognor Regis decision undoubtedly interferes with free speech, authorises potential restrictions and penalties and has a serious chilling effect upon freedom of speech generally. Excerpts from the articles giving the flavour of the allegations made will be found in the judgement at first instance... The council is the 'administering authority' of its superannuation fund under the Superannuation Act 1972 and the Local Government Superannuation Regulations 1986 (SI 1986 No 24) made thereunder."Following the publication actions of damages for libel were brought against the publishers of "The Sunday Times," its editor and the two journalists who wrote the articles, by Derbyshire County Council, Mr Bookbinder and Mr Oyston.

[Reference was made to Attorney-General v Antigua Times Ltd [1976] AC 16, 25-28.] Any restriction should be proportionate to its aim. Honest comment (including inferences of fact) cannot be the subject of a successful libel action: Silkin v Beaverbrook Newspapers Ltd [1958] 1 WLR 743 and Telnikoff v Matusevitch [1992] 2 AC 343. v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex parte Brind [1991] 1 AC 696. A rule enabling a government corporation to sue for libel thus cannot be justified under article 10(2) in accordance with the principles of objective necessity and proportionality. Mr Oyston's action was settled by an apology and payment of damages and costs.

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On a preliminary issue as to whether the plaintiff had a cause of action against the defendants, the judge held that a local authority could sue for libel in respect of its governmental and administrative functions, and dismissed the defendants' application to strike out the statement of claim. That case only decided that a local authority could not sue for libel in respect of an imputation of bribery and corruption. The categories of publications which enjoy privilege at common law are not closed: London Association for Protection of Trade v Greenlands Ltd [1916] 2 AC 15. Unlike a criminal prosecution, in a civil action the plaintiff does not need to show a prima facie case as a pre-condition to going for trial. If there is a need for greater protection to be given to freedom of expression, the manner of achieving that ought not to be an arbitrary removal from certain plaintiffs of their rights, but should be by extension of existing common law defences.

On appeal by the defendants, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff could not bring the action for libel. Bognor Regis Urban District Council v Campion [1972] 2 QB 169 overruled. The basis of the decision was the wrong conclusion that a local authority cannot commit those offences. There is no statutory restriction preventing the plaintiff from taking action for libel. An individual councillor or local government officer can bring proceedings in his own name for an attack upon his personal reputation in relation to his official activities. The freedom to express criticism of a governmental body can be more easily stifled by a series of civil actions than by criminal prosecutions: City of Chicago v Tribune Co, 139 N. The mere issue of a writ tends to have a gagging effect; and once proceedings are set down for trial, they become active so that further publications are caught by the strict liability rule: section 2(3) of, and Schedule 1 to, the Contempt of Court Act 1981. The route to reform should be through the law of privilege.

On appeal by the plaintiff:-Held, dismissing the appeal, that since it was of the highest public importance that a democratically elected governmental body should be open to uninhibited public criticism, and since the threat of civil actions for defamation would place an undesirable fetter on the freedom to express such criticism, it would be contrary to the public interest for institutions of central or local government to have any right at common law to maintain an action for damages for defamation; and that, accordingly, the plaintiff was not entitled to bring an action for libel against the defendants, and its statement of claim would be struck out (post, pp. Manchester Corporation v Williams [1891] 1 QB 94, D. Decision of the Court of Appeal [1992] QB 770; [1992] 3 WLR 28; [1992] 3 All ER 65 affirmed on different grounds. This was an appeal, by leave of the Court of Appeal, by the plaintiff, Derbyshire County Council, from the decision of the Court of Appeal (Balcombe, Ralph Gibson and Butler-Sloss L. On the contrary, section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 confers a wide power on local authorities to institute civil proceedings of all types. It is open to question, however, whether qualified privilege attaches to the publication of fair information on a matter of public interest concerning the manner in which a public officer performs public functions: see Webb v Times Publishing Co Ltd [1960] 2 QB 535 and Blackshaw v Lord [1984] QB 1, in which the Court of Appeal took too narrow a view of the scope of privilege in such circumstances. A civil court can grant prior restraint of publication, and damages are potentially without limit. Their Lordships took time for consideration.18 February 1993.

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