Dingle v Associated Newspapers Ltd
|Lord Radcliffe,Lord Morton of Henryton,Lord Cohen,Lord Denning,Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest
|24 May 1962
|Judgment citation (vLex)
| UKHL J0524-1
|House of Lords
|24 May 1962
 UKHL J0524-1
Lord Morton of Henryton
Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest
House of Lords
Upon Report from the Appellate Committee, to whom was referred the Cause Associated Newspapers Limited and others against Dingle, that the Committee had heard Counsel, as well on Monday the 2d, as on Tuesday the 3d, Wednesday the 4th, Thursday the 5th, Monday the 9th and Tuesday the 10th, days of April last, upon the Petition and Appeal of Associated Newspapers Limited, whose registered office is at Carmelite House, E.C.4, in the City of London, Arthur George Wareham, of Three Corners, Forest Ridge, Keston Park, in the County of Kent, and Michael Kelly, of 34 Wellington Road, Whalley Range, Manchester, in the County of Lancashire, praying, That the matter of the Order set forth in the Schedule thereto, namely, an Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal of the 8th of February 1961, might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, and that the said Order might be reversed, varied or altered, or that the Petitioners might have such other relief in the premises as to Her Majesty the Queen, in Her Court of Parliament, might seem meet; as also upon the Case of Philip Burrington Dingle, lodged in answer to the said Appeal; and due consideration had this day of what was offered on either side in this Cause:
It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of Her Majesty the Queen assembled, That the said Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal, of the 8th day of February 1961, complained of in the said Appeal, be and the same is hereby, Affirmed, and that the said Petition and Appeal be, and the same is hereby, dismissed this House: And it is further Ordered, That the Appellants do pay, or cause to be paid, to the said Respondent the Costs incurred by him in respect of the said Appeal, the amount thereof to be certified by the Clerk of the Parliaments.
The Respondent, Mr. Philip Dingle, is the Town Clerk of Manchester. It is not in dispute that the Appellants published a libel upon him in the issues of their daily newspaper, the "Daily Mail", on the 16th June, 1958. It was said at the trial of the action, but was not maintained before us, that they had also libelled him in a later issue on the 26th June. The trial Judge, Pearson, J., who sat without a jury, did not find that this second issue contained anything defamatory and the damages that he awarded, £1,100, were therefore confined to the injury caused by the libel of the 16th June. The Court of Appeal increased this sum to £4,000, the parties agreeing that they should be free to award a new figure instead of directing a new trial. The questions argued before your Lordships on the appeal are therefore concerned wholly with the assessment of damages and, although this may be rather an unusual situation for the House to find itself in, I would readily agree that the questions themselves involve points of legal principle that are of substantial importance.
I do not propose to set out any comprehensive account of the history of this matter. That is contained in the lengthy and exhaustive judgment of Pearson, J., which on all matters and findings of fact is, if I may say so, admirably lucid. I will notice only such facts as are necessary to explain the opinion that I shall offer on the questions argued before your Lordships on the appeal.
In the Parliamentary Session of 1957/1958 the Manchester Corporation promoted a Private Bill entitled "The Manchester Corporation Bill". It contained clauses devoted to a number of purposes, but among them was a set of clauses providing for the Corporation's acquisition of the undertaking of a private limited company, Ardwick Cemetery Ltd., the extinguishment of the ordinary £1 shares in the company and the conferment on the shareholders of the right by way of compensation to receive from the Corporation the sum of £1 for each ordinary share.
In accordance with the usual procedure this Bill was referred to a Select Committee of the House of Commons for consideration. It was the subject of a Report for the information of the House drawn up by that Committee, signed by their Chairman and made public on the 15th May, 1958. The Report referred to the clauses in the Bill dealing with the proposed acquisition of Ardwick Cemetery and stated among other things:
"The President of the Board of Trade, in his Report on the clauses, stated that on a break-up basis the shares were worth more than £1 each", and "It was advanced before the Committee on behalf of the Corporation that in consequence of a letter dated 2nd December, 1957, the Corporation had achieved the position where it now owned 2,017 out of a total of 2,100 shares in the Company".
The last two paragraphs of the Select Committee's report were as follows:ï¿½
"The Town Clerk admitted in evidence that in seeking to buy the shares on behalf of the Corporation he had not disclosed that the break-up value of the shares was in excess of the £1 per share offered. Furthermore, the representatives of the President of the Board of Trade pointed out to the Committee that, in the event of liquidation, it could be open to the liquidator to apply to the court for leave to disclaim liability for the expenditure mentioned in the" Town Clerk's "letter [of 2nd December, 1957]. It was clear to the Committee that the Corporation obtained the shares by presenting a one-sided view which failed to disclose the true position of the Company on a break-up. Asked whether before he sent out the letter he had considered it in the terms of section 13 of the Prevention of Fraud (Investments) Act, 1939, the Town Clerk replied: 'I took advice about it'.
The Committee expressed their unanimous strong disapproval of the letter and they now draw the attention of the House to the facts."
This Report was the origin of all the trouble that followed. Extracts from it not only appeared in the "Daily Mail" itself on the 17th May, 1958, but were also reproduced in many other national newspapers at the same time. I shall have to say something later as to the relevance, if any, of the contents of other newspapers when the assessment of damages is in question, but it is, I think, permissible to note and would be unrealistic not to suppose that the contents of such a Report would receive very wide distribution. I cannot see how anyone reading what was said and learning the source from which it came would fail to conclude that the Respondent had been detected in a piece of very sharp practice and had succeeded in obtaining Ardwick Cemetery Co. shares for the Corporation at less than their true value and without disclosing to the owners material information that ought to have been placed before them.
The Report itself was published on an occasion protected by absolute privilege. So also any extract or quotation from the document which appeared in a newspaper would be immune from libel proceedings if published bona fide and without malice (Parliamentary Papers Act, 1840, section 3). We have to start the consideration of this case, therefore, by recognising that so far as the "Daily Mail" or any other newspaper confined itself to reproducing extracts from the Report and acted in good faith and without malice the Respondent would have no cause of action in defamation against it. An attempt was in fact made at the trial of the action to avoid the operation of the 1840 Act by showing that the Appellants had acted with malice in the use they made of the Report: but the Judge found that there was no malice on their part "at any stage", and that issue is not before your Lordships on the appeal.
I ought now to add without qualification that if any reader of the Report did suppose that the Respondent had committed any sharp practice or had been the instrument of acquiring any shares at an under-value or had failed to disclose anything that he ought to have disclosed he would have been under a complete misapprehension as to the facts. When they came to be investigated by the Judge he found that the shares in the Ardwick Cemetery Co. were plainly shown to be worth rather less than 20s. 0d. per share, that the offer made to the shareholders in the Town Clerk's letter of the 2nd December, 1957, was a generous one which they were very fortunate to get, and that there was nothing wrong or improper at all in that letter. But these findings, though no doubt gratifying to the Respondent, do not in any way affect the permissible use of the select Committee's Report under the Parliamentary Papers Act, 1840.
The Appellants evidently decided to make a feature of the incidents referred to in the Report and to run a story about the acquisition of the shares in the Cemetery Co. Between the 17th May, 1958, when their Parliamentary reporter contributed an article on the contents of the Report, and the 13th November, 1958, when there was a report of a new statement by the Board of Trade as to the unfortunate "misunderstanding" which had arisen from their earlier comments on the Manchester Corporation Bill, there were twenty-one issues of the "Daily Mail" in which some reference was made to the subject. Only two of these, however, contained any matter that has been objected to as defamatory and, as I have said, one of these, the issue of the 26th June, has dropped out of the case. That leaves us with the issue of the 16th June to which I now turn.
This issue carried an article on the front page which bore a headline in large letters, "Cemetery Chairman Accuses", and a sub-headline immediately below it, "Shares were worth twice what Corporation paid ï¿½ letter went out while we were still negotiating". The substance of the article, which was contributed by the Appellant Kelly, consisted of...
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