Can you sue for defamation about statements made in court proceedings?

Judith Thompson

In October 2016 the Mail on Sunday published a report on criminal court proceedings against a former solictor who had been convicted of money laundering. The article suggested that the QC, who was prosecuting the case against the former solicitor, had "put an innocent man in jail" and had "buried evidence" to help acheive this, after the defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

It was the defendant's own barrister who had accusd the QC of "burying evidence", during the court proceedings. The Mail on Sunday were simply reporting what had been said in court. In these circumstances, the newspaper could not be sued for libel.

However, the QC complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, better known as IPSO. The QC complained that the allegations about her were "entirely without foundation" and suggested that she had been spiteful, when this was not the case.

IPSO found in favour of the QC and said that the way in which the article had been written suggested that the QC was responsible for a "miscarriage of justice". The Mail on Sunday argued that they had given the QC a right of reply before the article was published, and that they included her comments in the final article. Nevertheless, it took the Mail on Sunday almost five months to publish a correction, which even then IPSO felt had not gone far enough.

This case illustrates that even if you have been libelled in Court, it will almost certainly not be possible to bring proceedings for libel damages. No doubt the QC would have brought proceedings for damages for libel against the newspaper, had she been able to do so. However, the case serves as a useful reminder that in certain circumstances, people have the right to complain to IPSO, if defamatory statements made about them in court have been embellished and published by a newspaper. IPSO can compel the newspaper to print a correction.

If you have been the victim of libel or slander, contact us today to find out how we can help you.