Court upholds right to ‘attack the system’

Posted: 25th April 2014

RCJThe right of politicians and others to express their opinions and ‘attack the system’ has been underlined by the High Court’s dismissal of a £600,000 slander action against a council leader who expressed forthright views in a public forum.

The councillor had addressed a tense public meeting following a notorious case in which nine men were convicted of grooming and sexually abusing more than 40 girls. Two companies that ran children’s care homes in the area argued that the words he uttered had blackened their reputations and had a devastating impact on their business.

Although neither company was named by the councillor, they argued that influential listeners would have understood him to be referring to them. The 'innuendo' of his words, they claimed, was an accusation that they were 'directly culpable for failing to look after children in their care'.

It was submitted that the councillor’s statement was understood by those present to mean that the companies’ care homes were 'dangerous, unsafe and damaging to both vulnerable children in their care and society and, therefore, no children should be placed with them’. Between them, the companies claimed more than £600,000 in special damages to reflect the alleged damage to their business.

Dismissing the claims, the Court ruled that that the words complained of were an expression of the councillor’s opinion and were not capable of having a defamatory meaning. The councillor’s words were plainly targeted ‘against the system’ and did not involve any allegation of culpable behaviour or negligence on the part of the companies or their staff.