qualified privilege

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The defence that a statement cannot be made the subject of an action for defamation because it was made on a privileged occasion and was not made maliciously, for an improper motive. Qualified privilege covers statements made fairly in situations in which there is a legal or moral obligation to give the information and the person to whom it is given has a corresponding duty or interest to receive it (Watt v Longsdon [1930] 1 KB 130) and when someone is acting in defence of his own property or reputation. Qualified privilege also covers fair and accurate reports of public meetings and various other public proceedings. The privilege attaching to professional communications between solicitor and client is probably qualified, rather than absolute (see absolute privilege). Newspaper articles on matters of public interest, where the investigation and reporting of the issues is responsible and fair, will attract a defence of qualified privilege, if they meet a test of “responsible journalism” (Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd [2001] 2 AC 127 (HL); Jameel v Wall Street Journal Europe Sprl [2006] UKHL 44, [2007] 1 AC 359). Book publishers and authors may also rely on this species of qualified privilege of responsible journalism (Michael Charman v Orion Publishing Group Ltd [2007] EWCA Civ 972). Reportage, or neutral reporting without adoption or embellishment of the allegations or assertions being reported, will also be subject to qualified privilege (Roberts v Gable [2007] EWCA Civ 721, [2008] 2 WLR 129.

The Defamation Act 1996 lists various types of statement that are subject to qualified privilege. Schedule I Part I lists types of statement that have “qualified privilege without explanation or contradiction”: it would not be possible to sue for such statements, unless made with malice. Schedule I Part II lists types of statement that are “privileged subject to explanation or contradiction”: these statements may lose their protection if the person defamed is not given adequate opportunity to explain or contradict them.

Subjects: Law.

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