Grappelli v Derek Block (Holdings) Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date20 January 1981
Judgment citation (vLex)[1981] EWCA Civ J0120-2
Docket Number81/0078
Date20 January 1981

[1981] EWCA Civ J0120-2






Royal Courts of Justice.


The Master of the Rolls

(Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Templeman


Lord Justice Dunn


1977 G. No. 3094

Stephane Grappelli


William Charles Disley
Plaintiffs (Respondents)
Derek Block (Holdings) Limited and Ray Nedas
Defendants (Appellants)

MR. R. RAMPTON (instructed by Messrs. Marsh Regan) appeared on behalf of the Plaintiffs (Respondents).

MR. PETER BOWSHER, Q.C. and MISS A. PAGE (instructed by Messrs. Ingledew Brown Bennison & Garrett) appeared on behalf of the Defendants (Appellants).



Mr. Grappelli is a professional jazz violinist with an international reputation. Mr. Disley is a professional guitarist. He is the leader of a trio which accompanied Mr. Grappelli as part of his team. It appears that they had as their managers or agents at one time a company called Derek Block (Holdings) Ltd. About June 1976 these managers or agents purported to hook concerts for Mr. Grappelli and his team at various places in England. They were fixed for some months ahead. For instance, in June a concert was fixed at Milton Keynes to he held on the 4th December, 1976. At Huddersfield an arrangement was made for a concert to be held on the 10th December, 1976. And so forth.


Mr. Grappelli says that the agents acted without his authority when they booked him for those engagements. The agents had to cancel the bookings they had made. So on the 21st September, 1976 they telephoned the people concerned, and put forward this excuse:


"The Stephane Grappelli concert has been cancelled because Stephane Grappelli is very seriously ill in Paris and I would be surprised if he ever toured again".


Mr. Grappelli says that that was an entirely false statement about his health: it was known by the agents to be false. They put it forward as an excuse to get themselves out of the unauthorised engagements. If it was a false statement, maliciously made, which would cause damage, it would give rise to a cause of action for injurious falsehood. A cause of action has been brought accordingly.


Not content with a cause of action for injurious falsehood, Mr. Grappelli and Mr. Disley also allege that the statement was a slander as being defamatory of Mr. Grappelli. It is obviously not defamatory as it stands. It is not defamatory of a person to say that he is seriously ill. But Mr. Grappelli says that it became actionable thereafter. He says that late in November there was a notice in the Sunday Times (and other papers) saying that Mr. Grappelli was performing in various concert halls. Not at the concert halls previously arranged but at others. For instance, the notice in the Sunday Times said that he was going to appear at St. Albans on the 4th December. Not at Milton Keynes. It also said that he was going to appear somewhere else on the 10th December. Not at Huddersfield.


It is said on behalf of Mr. Grappelli that when people read in November 1976 in the Sunday Times that these other new engagements had been made for him, they would read an innuendo into the statement made in September 1976. They would say to themselves, "That was a put-up job. He was not really ill. He gave a reason which he knew to be false". It is said that that subsequent knowledge would le ad people to think that the original statement about Mr. Grappelli being ill was a put-up job. The plaintiffs allege a legal innuendo that the words were understood to mean that the plaintiffs had given a reason for cancelling the concerts which they knew to be false.


That is the pleading as it stands. An application was made by the defendants—not to strike out the malicious falsehood part of the claim—but to strike out the claim in regard to slander on the ground that there was no cause of action in defamation.


The case raises two quite interesting points on the law of libel. I summarised the law about innuendo in Fullam v. Newcastle Chronicle and Journal Ltd. (1977) 1 Weekly Law Reports 651. There is a cause of action for words in their natural and ordinary meaning. That is not alleged here. The other cause of action is one which is based on a legal innuendo. In it the plaintiff relies on special circumstances which convey-to some particular person or persons, knowing those circumstances, a special defamatory meaning other than the natural and ordinary meaning. That is a separate cause of action.


The question which arises in this case is as to legal innuendo. When the plaintiff relies on special circumstances known to another person, have those special circumstances to be in his knowledge at the time when he reads or hears the words? Or is it sufficient that—because of some later facts—he puts a defamatory meaning upon them?


Upon this point we heard an interesting discussion on both sides. I would go by the principle, which is well-established, that in defamation—be it libel or slander—the cause of action is the publication of defamatory words of and concerning the plaintiff. The cause of action arises when those words are published to the person by whom they are read or heard. The cause of action arises then: and not later.


Mr. Rampton urged us to say that in slander it may be different. He suggests that the cause of action there does not arise until there is damage—like actions in negligence and the like.


I prefer to go by the principle that in defamation a cause of action arises (and a writ can be issued) as soon as the words are published to a person then knowing all the material facts. If there are extrinsic facts, he must know them then—at the time of publication. That is when a cause of action arises. It cannot be made into a cause of action by reason of facts subsequently coming to the knowledge of the reader or hearer.


We were referred to a New Zealand case, which was not cited to the judge below. It is Simons Proprietary Limited v. Riddell (1941) New Zealand Law Reports 913. Mr. Justice Blair seemed to me to put the position quite accurately when he said at page 932:


"On the authorities—see Cassidy v. Daily Mirror Newspapers and Tolley v. J.S. Pry and Sons Ltd.—innocent matter may be given a defamatory meaning by readers with knowledge of facts not known to the writer. But those cases do not lay down that a writer of innocent matter can by reason of certain facts coming into existence subsequent to publication of his innocent matter become liable in damages for libel because persons learning of that subsequent material are able to read into the innocent matter a defamatory meaning".


That seems to me to be correct. He emphasised it by saying that, if the person was liable in damages in those circumstances, it would mean a great extension in the law of libel. He said it would be extending it much too far "to ascertain whether the next day or the next week or the next year some one may not say or do something that will enable a defamatory meaning to be given to otherwise innocent statements".


That principle seems to me to be applicable here. The inferences which were put upon the statements after the publication (by facts subsequently learnt) do not render them defamatory in the beginning.


The second point arises on the pleadings. The plaintiffs do not identify any of the readers of the Sunday Times, or other publications, who—by reason of the later facts—may have put a defamatory meaning upon the statement. The question is whether particulars should he given identifying the persons concerned. Again, on this point it seems to me that it can be dealt with in principle. I ventured to put it myself in Fullam's case at page 655 in the case of secondary meanings:


"…he must in his statement of claim specify the particular person or persons to whom they were published and the special circumstances known to that person or persons…there is no exception in the case of a newspaper".


It seems to me that that general principle of pleading applies here. In the case of these secondary meanings—even innuendos—the plaintiff ought to specify the persons who have the particular knowledge from which they drew a defamatory meaning.


So on "both these points it seems to me that we ought to give leave to appeal. I can understand the judge's difficulty: he was not referred to all the cases to which we were referred. He was referred to a ruling of Mr. Justice O'Connor at first instance. That seems to me to be understandable on other grounds, but of no assistance here. I would give leave to appeal, allow the appeal, and strike out the causes of action in so far as they rely on defamation: but leave intact completely the causes of action in relation to malicious or injurious falsehood: because it seems to me that that is really what the plaintiffs should depend upon.


I would allow the appeal accordingly.


I have had the advantage of some discussion with my Lords. For the reasons given by the Master of the Rolls and for the reasons which Lord Justice Dunn is about to give, I too would allow the appeal, and cannot usefully add anything.


I agree that the appeal should be allowed. The learned judge, in giving leave to appeal, said that this appeal raised a novel point of law. The principal question of law is whether, when extrinsic facts are relied on in support of an innuendo which arose after the publication, the original words, not defamatory in their ordinary and natural meaning, can have the defamatory meaning alleged in the innuendo. Both the registrar and the judge held that they could. The...

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1 books & journal articles
  • Tort Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2015, December 2015
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