‘Fair comment’ is now ‘honest comment’

A judgment handed down in the Supreme Court today will change the treatment of opinions in defamation cases.

The press summary issued by the court [PDF link] explains that the Supreme Court has unanimously allowed an appeal in the Spiller and another (Appellants) v Joseph and others (Respondents) [2010] UKSC 53 case, on appeal from the Court of Appeal [2009] EWCA Civ [1075].

The case involves a Motown music group called the The Gillettes or Saturday Night at the Movies, whose members sued their former agent Jason Spiller, after a notice was pasted on his entertainment company’s website.

The original defences used by the defendants (the appellants in the Supreme Court case), of justification and fair comment, were struck out in the High Court. In the subsequent Court of Appeal hearing, the defence of justification was reinstated, but the fair comment striking out was upheld.

However, the Supreme Court today allowed the appeal and said that the defence of fair comment should be open to the appellants, Spiller and another.

The judges decided that the “comment must explicitly or implicitly indicate, at least in general terms, the facts on which it is based.”

In their summary of the judgment, the judges acknowledged the digital age: “Today many people take advantage of the internet to make public comments and the [fair comment] defence would be robbed of much of its efficacy if readers had to be given detailed information to enable evaluation of the comment (…)

“The Supreme Court agreed that there was a case for reform of a number of aspects of the defence of fair comment which did not arise directly in this case (…)

“The whole area merited consideration by the Law Commission or an expert committee,” the ruling said.

The judges explained that the defence had been renamed from ‘fair comment’ to ‘honest comment’.

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One Response to ‘Fair comment’ is now ‘honest comment’

  1. Pingback: ‘Fair comment’ updated by Supreme Court for the digital age — Journal Local

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