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Trivial defamation claim thrown out

22 June 2010

Seriousness must be central to a claim for libel, the High Court has ruled.

Grappling with patchwork precedent on the issue, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the claimed defamation was too trifling that it could not warrant pursuit.

The case, Thornton v Telegraph [2010] EWHC 1414 (QB), concerns a book review written by Lynn Barber in which accuses the author of allowing ‘copy approval’.

Throwing out the libel claim, Tugendhat J said: “Dr Thornton appears to share the view… that giving copy approval is something to be disapproved of. But that does not take the case any further towards making this a libel.

“The fact that the two parties to an action may both be members of a section of society holding particular views does not relieve the court from the obligation to try the case by the standards of members of society generally.”

Dr Thornton, represented by Taylor Hampton Solicitors, claimed the comment was an attack on her integrity as a professional writer.

But Tugendhat J, agreeing with The Telegraph’s counsel David Price, said: “I accept Mr Price’s submission that whatever definition of ‘defamatory’ is adopted, it must include a qualification or threshold of seriousness, so as to exclude trivial claims.

“The copy approval allegation is not capable of being a personal libel. It is not capable of meaning that Dr Thornton had done anything which in ordinary language could be highly reprehensible, or reprehensible at all.”

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Discrimination Procedures Local government