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Justice Bell's Verdict
19th June 1997



Chief Justice Bell's 800 page judgement was handed down on Thursday 19th June 1997 after his presentation of the Summary - the whole judgement is presented here for your enjoyment.

13. Conclusions.


That leaves the question of the amounts of damages to be awarded to the First and Second Plaintiffs against the Defendants, Ms Steel and Mr Morris.

A successful trading corporation Plaintiff in a defamation action is entitled to recover, as general compensatory damages, such sums as will compensate it for the wrong it has suffered. That sum must compensate it for the damage to its trading reputation and goodwill, and vindicate its good name such as it may be, but it does not take account of distress, hurt and humiliation as damages to an individual Plaintiff must do, because a corporation does not have feelings to be hurt, however much the defamatory material may have hurt the feelings of individual officers who feel themselves affected by it.

In assessing the appropriate damages for injury to reputation the most important factor is the gravity of the libel. The more closely it touches its trading reputation, the more serious it is likely to be. The fact that others may have defamed a Plaintiff in the same or similar respects is irrelevant. There is no basis upon which I could find that either Plaintiff in this case has a generally bad reputation.

The Defendants criticised the Plaintiffs for bringing proceedings at all, and the First Plaintiff for bringing proceedings in this jurisdiction, of England and Wales, but I am not persuaded that the bringing of these proceedings should be regarded as disreputable, nor that damages should be reduced for that reason. Foreign Plaintiffs are entitled to sue in our courts if they have a valid cause of action here. My duty is to apply the law of this jurisdiction to a claim properly brought within this jurisdiction. I do not doubt that both Plaintiffs brought the proceedings in good faith to defend their trading reputations and goodwill from defamatory statements which they, through their officers, genuinely believed to be untrue, and not to stifle criticisms which they knew to be well-founded.

The extent of publication is also very relevant to the amount of damages.

A successful Plaintiff may properly look to an award of damages to vindicate its reputation: but the significance of this is much greater in a case where the Defendant asserts the truth of the libel and refuses any retraction or apology than in a case where the Defendant acknowledges the falsity of what was published and publicly expresses regret that libellous publication took place.

Foreseeable, consequential publication within the jurisdiction of the Court is to be taken into account. The harm done by the publication for which damages are recoverable does not come to an end when the publication is made. So long as its withdrawal is not communicated to all those whom it has reached it may continue to spread. This is the rationale for the undoubted rule that persistence by the Defendant in a plea of justification or repetition of the original libel by him at trial can increase the damages. By pursuing a plea of justification the Defendant prolongs the period in which the damage for the original publication continues to spread, and by giving to it further publicity at the trial the Defendant extends the quarters that libel reaches: Broome v. Cassell [1972] A.C.1027, per Lord Diplock at 1125 F-H.

On the other hand, where a Defendant puts forward a defence of justification and is unable to prove sufficient facts to establish the defence even with the assistance of section 5 of the Defamation Act,1952, he may be able to rely on such facts as he has proved to reduce the damages. Thus a defence of partial justification, though it may not prevent the Plaintiff from succeeding on the issue of liability, may be of great importance on the issue of damages: Pamplin v. Express Newspapers Ltd [1988] 1 W.L.R. 116 per Neill L.J. at 120D.

Where there are separate Plaintiffs who have been successful in the same action each is entitled to an award of damages, and where there are separate Defendants who have published material defamatory of the Plaintiffs each is liable for an award of damages in favour of each Plaintiff, but in so far as both Defendants have been jointly responsible for relevant publication they are jointly as well as severally liable for the damages appropriate to that publication. In so far as one Defendant, but not the other, is responsible for further, relevant publication, he alone is severally responsible for the further damages appropriate to that further publication.

Reference may be made to awards of damages in defamation cases, made or approved by the Court of Appeal (See John v. MGN Ltd [1996] 3W.L.R.529.) and, in my view, by other judges sitting alone. I was referred to some such awards, but the facts of all cases vary and their numbers are limited, particularly in cases of corporate Plaintiffs. I have read a copy of the relevant parts of May J.'s judgment in the Upjohn Case.

Any party, or counsel, may make suggestions as to what is an appropriate award.

Since the purpose of compensatory damages is to compensate the Plaintiff, the means or lack of means of the Defendant are irrelevant. Information as to whether a Plaintiff will or will not seek to enforce a judgment, is equally irrelevant. I do not know what will happen in this case, in any event.

In my judgment, as I have already said in relation to the issue of publication, the Defendants were both responsible for the publication of several thousand copies of the leaflet, directly and consequentially, within the jurisdiction and within the limitation period of September,1987, to September,1990; Mr Morris for the whole of that period, Ms Steel from early in 1988. Their determination to seek to justify these allegations in the leaflet, which I have found to be untrue, has resulted in their wide publication in the national media in this country, which is just what the Defendants wanted, but fighting the case has resulted in justification of some of its defamatory charges, which would not have been possible had the Defendants made a complete retraction as the Plaintiffs wished.

Mr Morris's unjustified suggestions that some of the Plaintiffs' witnesses were lying, were offensive to their feelings rather than to the Plaintiffs' reputations and goodwill.

I have already indicated that in my view the unjustified allegations of blame for starvation in the Third World, and destruction of rainforest, and of knowingly selling food with a serious risk of damaging their customers' health, are particularly damaging to the Plaintiffs' reputations. The allegation of lying about their use of recycled paper is serious because of the element of deception.

On the other hand, there has been an element of justification in relation to the Plaintiffs' advertising, their responsibility for some cruelty towards some of the animals which are reared and slaughtered for their products, and the Second Plaintiffs' low pay. Although the Plaintiffs succeeded on other elements of the defamatory charges relating to their employment practices, the evidence did disclose unsatisfactory aspects of their working conditions.

The important charges of deception made against the Plaintiffs in the leaflet have not been justified, but some of the Plaintiffs' publicity material has been shown to be misleading.

The extent of publication of the libels was the same in relation to each Plaintiff, and the seriousness of the unjustified charges and the extent of any allowance to be made for partial justification, were broadly the same in respect of each Plaintiff.

In his final submissions, counsel for the Plaintiffs suggested that a total award of damages in the bracket of 40,000 to 60,000 to each of the Plaintiffs was appropriate. I would have thought a figure somewhere in the middle of that bracket appropriate for each Plaintiff, if all the defamatory statements complained of had turned out to be untrue and without any foundation.

Putting the chaff with the wheat, however, I assess the damages for each individual Plaintiff at 30,000 for the publications between September,1987, and September,1990, for which Mr Morris is responsible, of which I allocate 27,500 to the period from early 1988 to September,1990, for which Ms Steel is jointly liable with Mr Morris.

It follows that there will be judgment for the First Plaintiff for 30,000 against Mr Morris and for 27,500 against Ms Steel. Mr Morris is severally liable for the whole 30,000 awarded to the First Plaintiff. He and Ms Steel are jointly and severally liable for 27,500 of the 30,000 awarded to the First Plaintiff.

There will be judgment for the Second Plaintiff for 30,000 against Mr Morris and for 27,500 against Ms Steel. Mr Morris is severally liable for the whole 30,000 awarded to the Second Plaintiff. He and Ms Steel are jointly and severally liable for 27,500 of the 30,000 awarded to the Second Plaintiff.

There will be judgment for the Second Plaintiff on the Defendants' counterclaims which are dimissed.

I make no further orders at this stage. If any party wishes to apply for any further order such as an order for costs, that party should give notice in writing to the Court and to the other parties not later than Thursday, 17th July,1997, which allows four weeks to read and consider the full effects of this judgment which I now hand down. That date falls two weeks before the end of this legal term.

There will be liberty to apply as to the precise form of the orders which I have so far made, if there is any dispute as to their form.

I direct, pursuant to RSC, Order 68, rule 1(1), that no official shorthand note shall be taken of this judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.



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