It would be monstrous if a corporation could maintain no action for slander of title through which they lost a great deal of money.
It could not sue in respect of an imputation of murder, or incest, or adultery, because it could not commit those crimes.
This offence is virtually extinct and is anomalous and difficult to reconcile with article 10: see Reg. There is no justification for treating a local authority's governing reputation as analogous to a private company's or trade union's business reputation, and there is no legitimate public interest in restricting or interfering with freedom of speech to protect that governing reputation. Placing the burden of proving justification upon the defendant does not mean that only false allegations would be deterred. The preliminary point of law was tried at first instance before Morland J  QB 770 who on 15 March 1991 decided it in favour of the plaintiff.
v Wells Street Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex parte Deakin  AC 477. For the courts to allow an elected public authority to sue for libel would be to authorise unnecessary interference by the common law with freedom of expression in a democratic society. In addition, would-be critics of government conduct will be deterred from voicing criticism even though what they published was reasonably believed to be true and was in fact true, because of doubt of whether it could be proved to the satisfaction of a court of law, or because of fear of the expense of having to do so: see City of Chicago v Tribune Co, 139 N. 86, approved in New York Times Co v Sullivan, 376 U. However, on appeal by the defendants his judgement was reversed by the Court of Appeal (Balcombe, Ralph Gibson and Butler- Sloss LJJ)  QB 770, on 19 February 1992.
The Court of the Exchequer held the action to be maintainable.
Pollock CB, in the passage referred to by Day J, said, at p90:"That a corporation at common law can sue in respect of a libel there is no doubt.
This is not a hypothetical matter: the defendant in the Bognor Regis case  2 QB 169 was completely ruined by the legal costs of defending a libel trial for having handed out a leaflet at a ratepayers' association meeting in a village hall. Seditious libel requires proof of a seditious intention, whereas state of mind is immaterial for defamatory libel, since malice is implied from the mere publication of defamatory matter. Where there has been judicial weighing of the competing public interests, it has been held that governmental bodies cannot sue in respect of their governing reputations: City of Chicago v Tribune Co (1923) 139 N. In the absence of legislative intervention by Parliament, it is the constitutional function of the courts, when declaring and applying the common law, to ensure that the law does not unnecessarily interfere with free expression: see In re Alberta Legislation  2 D. The judgement of Day J in the Queen's Bench report is in these terms  1 QB 94, 96:"This is an action brought by a municipal corporation to recover damages for what is alleged to be a libel on the corporation itself, as distinguished from its individual members or officials. It is altogether unprecedented, and there is no principle on which it could be founded.
Freedom of expression is an essential feature of citizenship and of representative democracy. The development of a tort of government libel, much more draconian than the crime of seditious libel, would have a chilling effect upon the freedom of expression of newspapers as well as of the individual citizen critic of government. The libel complained of consists of a charge of bribery and corruption. The limits of a corporation's right of action for libel are those suggested by Pollock CB in the case which has been referred to.
If there is a legitimate need for a local authority to protect its reputation, why should its ability to do so depend on whether, fortuitously, it could prove malice. If the council were to succeed in this appeal, any governmental body with corporate status could bring libel proceedings against a newspaper or individual citizen alleged to have defamed its governing reputation. In the United Kingdom there is no Act of Parliament incorporating the guarantee of free speech contained in article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms into domestic law. Subject to the sovereign power of Parliament to intervene by legislation, the common law matches the protection given to free speech by article 10. There are only two reported cases in which an English local authority has sued for libel.The article should not be applied in the abstract to conclude that a local authority's right to bring a libel action will inevitably and in all circumstances infringe the article. Damages awarded to corporate plaintiffs are not large. There is a similar requirement where the restriction upon free expression is imposed by the common law itself: Attorney-General v Guardian Newspapers Ltd  and Attorney-General v Guardian Newspapers Ltd (No. Furthermore, the courts will, unless constrained by binding authority, declare the common law so as to be in harmony with the right to freedom of expression recognised and guaranteed by article 10 of the Convention and with the principle that only necessary interferences with freedom of expression are acceptable. 149 and Times Newspapers Ltd v United Kingdom (Application No. [Reference was also made to Castells v Spain, 14 E. These principles are of particular importance so far as the press is concerned as public watchdog. The statements of claims in this action by the plaintiff and in that by Mr Bookbinder are for all practical purposes in identical terms.The correct approach should be to consider whether in the context of the particular case, the relevant domestic law is unnecessarily restrictive: see Castells v Spain (1992) 14 E. A local authority has no feelings to be hurt by a libel: see Fielding v Variety Incorporated  2 QB 841. The Convention, though not part of domestic law, enshrines the common law. The limits of permissible criticism are wider with regard to the government. 1549; Sixteen Austrian Communes v Austria (1974) 46 Eur. That of the plaintiff asserts in paragraph 6 that there were written and published "of and concerning the council and of and concerning the council in the way of its discharge of its responsibility for the investment and control of the superannuation fund" the words contained in the article of 17 September, and paragraph 8 makes a similar assertion in relation to the article of 24 September.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  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  1 QB 94, D. Decision of the Court of Appeal  QB 770;  3 WLR 28;  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  2 QB 535 and Blackshaw v Lord  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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Thus, the English law of defamation imposes no unnecessary or illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression within article 10. The mere existence of a legal rule can violate a Convention right or freedom if it has a chilling effect upon the practical enjoyment of that right or freedom: Dudgeon v United Kingdom (1981) 4 E. A critic of government conduct ought not to have to guarantee the truth of all his factual assertions endangering the esteem in which government is held on pain of a successful suit for libel. v Commission of the European Communities (Case 46/87R)  E. Paragraph 9 states:"By reason of the words published on 17 September 1989 and the words and graph published on 24 September 1989 the plaintiff council has been injured in its credit and reputation and has been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt, and has suffered loss and damage."No special damage is pleaded.