Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED February 13, 2003

A police officer can give information to a public authority in the course of his duties without being sued for defamation.Claimant's ('H') appeal in libel proceedings against the order of HH Judge Richard Walker made on 25 March 2002. H was a senior education welfare officer employed by Hampshire County Council. On 18 October 1996, a complaint was made to the second respondent ('C'), a police sergeant, stating that H had assaulted his stepson and caused him actual bodily harm. H was arrested and subsequently released on bail. Conflicting versions of the events leading to the alleged assault meant that, in police terms, the case against H was "not proven" and the file remained "open". In the course of further investigations, H's stepchildren were placed on the child protection register. Two publications formed the basis of H's complaint. They were: (i) a letter from C to H's assistant principal; and (ii) a telephone conversation between the same parties. C contended that: (a) both the telephone conversation and the letter constituted examples of qualified privilege; (b) the words were published maliciously, in that C intended to convey the implication that H was guilty when he knew that the opposite was true.HELD: (1) Both communications constituted examples of qualified privilege. Nothing in the content of either could have been considered irrelevant or factually incorrect. (2) The words "not proven" and that the complaint remained "open" was not an assertion of H's guilt. There was therefore no malicious intent within the words.Appeal dismissed.

[2003] EWCA Civ 102