Horrocks v Lowe

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
Judgment Date1972
Date1972
Year1972
CourtHouse of Lords
[HOUSE OF LORDS] HORROCKS APPELLANT AND LOWE RESPONDENT 1973 Nov. 6, 7, 8; 1974 Jan. 30 Lord Wilberforce, Lord Hodson, Viscount Dilhorne, Lord Diplock and Lord Kilbrandon

Libel and Slander - Defamation - Privilege - Qualified - Council meeting - Defamatory words spoken by one councillor of another - Plea of express malice destroying qualified privilege - Finding that words spoken in honest belief of their truth but with gross, unreasoning prejudice - Whether constituting evidence of malice

In 1961 a corporation bought a piece of land from a company of which the plaintiff was chairman and majority shareholder. It was subject to a covenant that it would be built on. The company sold adjoining plots and plots opposite the corporation's site to purchasers on that understanding. In 1968, when the plaintiff was a councillor of the majority party on the town council, the corporation granted a lease of the land to a political party club for the purpose of building a club house. Not until the building was nearing completion was it discovered that the covenant prohibited the development of the land. The plaintiff's company had the benefit of the covenant and correspondence passed between the council officers and the company's solicitors, but the company was reluctant to release the covenant in the interests of the surrounding purchasers. The defendant, an alderman in the minority party, raised the matter in council, and in the course of a speech at an open council meeting he uttered words defamatory of the plaintiff. The plaintiff brought an action for slander against the defendant who by his defence claimed justification and fair comment on a privileged occasion. By his reply the plaintiff pleaded that the defendant had been actuated by express malice. Stirling J. held that the occasion had been privileged. He found that the defendant had honestly believed that what the said was true, but that he had shown such “gross and unreasoning prejudice” as to constitute malice in law sufficient to destroy the privilege. He awarded the plaintiff damages. On appeal by the defendant, the Court of Appeal held, allowing the appeal, that as the judge had found that the defendant had honestly believed that what he said was true the qualified privilege attaching to the occasion could only be destroyed if the plaintiff proved that the defendant had been actuated by express malice in its popular meaning of spite or ill will, and that as such express malice had not been found the finding of malice could not stand with the finding of honest belief, so that the privilege of the occasion had protected the defendant.

On appeal by the plaintiff: —

Held, dismissing the appeal, that the defendant not having misused the privileged occasion by using it for some purpose other than that fa which the privilege was accorded to it in the public interest his positive belief in the truth of what he said entitled him to succeed in his defence of qualified privilege (post, pp. 284F, G, 287D–F, 290G, H, 293H, 294F, G).

Clark v. Molyneux (1877) 3 Q.B.D. 237, C.A. and dicta of Lord Dunedin in Adam v. Ward [1917] A.C. 309, 326–327, 330, H.L.(E.) applied.

Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society Ltd. v. Parkinson [1892] 1 Q.B. 431, C.A. and Watt v. Longsdon [1930] 1 K.B. 130, C.A. considered.

Decision of the Court of Appeal [1972] 1 W.L.R. 1625; [1972] 3 All E.R. 1098 affirmed.

The following cases are referred to in their Lordships' opinions:

Adam v. Ward [1917] A.C. 309, H.L.(E.).

Clark v. Molyneux (1877) 3 Q.B.D. 237; 47 L.J.Q.B. 230, C.A.

Laughton v. Bishop of Sodor and Man (1872) L.R. 4 P.C. 495, P.C.

Royal Aquarium and Summer and Winter Garden Society Ltd. v. Parkinson [1892] 1 Q.B. 431, C.A.

Smith v. Thomas (1835) 2 Bing.M.C. 372.

Watt v. Longsdon [1930] 1 K.B. 130, C.A.

The following additional cases were cited in argument:

Broadway Approvals Ltd. v. Odhams Press Ltd. (No. 2) [1965] 1 W.L.R. 805; [1965] 2 All E.R. 523, C.A.

Brown v. Hawkes [1891] 2 Q.B. 718, C.A.

Coughlan v. Jones & Jones (1915) 35 N.Z.L.R. 41.

Dawkins v. Lord Paulet (1869) L.R. 5 Q.B. 94.

Derry v. Peek (1889) 14 App.Cas. 337, H.L.(E.).

Dickson v. Earl of Wilton (1859) 1 F. & F. 419.

Hayford v. Forrester-Paton, 1927 S.C. 740.

Merivale v. Carson (1887) 20 Q.B.D. 275, C.A.

Pitt v. Donovan (1813) 1 M. & S. 639.

Pratt v. British Medical Association [1919] 1 K.B. 244.

Silkin v. Beaverbrook Newspapers Ltd. [1958] 1 W.L.R. 743; [1958] 2 All E.R. 516.

Simpson v. Robinson (1848) 18 L.J.Q.B. 73.

Slim v. Daily Telegraph Ltd. [1968] 2 Q.B. 157; [1968] 2 W.L.R. 599; [1968] 1 All E.R. 497, C.A.

Spill v. Maule (1869) L.R. 4 Exch. 232.

Turner (orse. Robertson) v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Ltd. [1950] 1 All E.R. 449, H.L.(E.).

Webb v. Bloch (1928) 41 C.L.R. 331.

Winstanley v. Bampton [1943] K.B. 319; [1943] 1 All E.R. 661.

APPEAL from the Court of Appeal (Lord Denning M.R., Edmund Davies and Stephenson L.JJ.) [1972] 1 W.L.R. 1625.

This was an appeal by the plaintiff, Robert Horrocks, by leave of the House granted on December 19, 1972, from a decision of the Court of Appeal on October 6, 1973, reversing a decision of Stirling J. sitting without a jury at Manchester by which he awarded the plaintiff £400 damages for slander against the defendant, Peter Lowe.

The plaintiff, at all material times a councillor of Bolton Town Council, by his statement of claim alleged that the words of a speech delivered by the defendant at a meeting of the council on November 5, 1969, and a report of the council meeting published on November 6, 1969, in the “Bolton Evening News” were calculated to disparage him in his office and business. By his defence the defendant, inter alia, claimed that the words were spoken to persons having a common interest and in pursuance of a duty without malice in the honest belief that they were true, and on an occasion of qualified privilege. By his reply the plaintiff claimed that in publishing the words complained of the defendant was actuated by express malice.

Stirling J. found that the words used were defamatory and could not be justified and while he was prepared to accept “that he [the defendant] believed and still believes that everything he said was true and justifiable” he found that as a whole the speech was such an unfair and tendentious account of the plaintiff's conduct in relation to the relevant land that it established “gross and unreasoning prejudice,” and he awarded the plaintiff £400 in respect of the slander and costs. On the defendant's appeal, the Court of Appeal [1972] 1 W.L.R. 1625 held that the defendant's belief that everything he said was true entitled him to succeed on his defence of privilege.

The plaintiff appealed.

The facts are stated in the opinion of Lord Diplock.

Colin Duncan Q.C. and John E. Previte for the plaintiff.

Michael Kempster Q.C. and Patrick Milmo for the defendant.

Their Lordships took time for consideration.

January 30. LORD WILBERFORCE. My Lords, I have had the advantage of reading in advance the opinion of my noble and learned friend, Lord Diplock, with which I concur.

I would dismiss the appeal.

LORD HODSON. My Lords, for the reasons given by my noble and learned friend, Lord Diplock, I, too, would dismiss the appeal.

VISCOUNT DILHORNE. My Lords, the respondent was at all material times an alderman of the Bolton Town Council, a member of a number of its committees and of the Labour party, which was then in a minority on the council. The appellant was also a member of the council. He was a member of its Management and Finance Committee and a Conservative. The Conservatives then held a majority on the council. The appellant was also chairman and the majority shareholder in a holding company called Land Development and Building Ltd. Among the activities of its subsidiary companies were the sale, purchase and development of land.

The company sold to the corporation some land subject to a restrictive covenant preventing building thereon. Houses were built on adjoining land and let by a company in which the appellant was concerned on the basis that the land subject to the restrictive covenant would not be built on so that the frontagers would not have the view from their houses obstructed.

Unfortunately the Bolton Corporation, when letting some of the land in Bishops Road to the Great Lever Conservative Club for the club to build premises thereon, overlooked the existence of the covenant. When its existence was brought to their knowledge efforts were made without success to secure the release of the land from the covenant, one difficulty being the assurances given to the frontagers that the land would not be built on. As no release was obtained the Management and Finance Committee ultimately decided that alternative accommodation should be found for the club and compensation paid to them. As a great deal of the building had been done the compensation was considerable.

At the meeting of the Management and Finance Committee at which this was decided and at which the appellant, on account of his interest in the matter, was not present, the respondent expressed the view that the appellant should not be a member of that committee because of the frequency with which his professional interests were likely to arise in matters of concern to the committee. He gave notice of his intention to raise the matter at a meeting of the council. With a Conservative majority on the council he thought his chances of getting his view accepted were slight, but he thought that the Bishops Road fiasco, as it was called, gave him the opportunity he wanted. Prior to November 5, 1969, the Labour caucus met and it was decided that the appellant should be attacked on account of his failure to secure the release of the restrictive covenant and that an effort should be made to secure his removal from the Management and Finance Committee. It was agreed that the respondent should make the attack.

At the meeting of the council on November 5...

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3 firm's commentaries
  • Court Of Appeal Summaries (February 6, 2023 ' February 10, 2023)
    • Canada
    • Mondaq Canada
    • 14 February 2023
    ...Turner (1993), 105 D.L.R. (4th) 37, Wells v. Sears, 2007 NLCA 2, Leger v. Edmonton (City) (1989), 63 D.L.R. (4th) 279, Horrocks v. Lowe, [1975] A.C. 135, Lemire v. Burley, 2021 ONSC 5036, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority v. Smith, 2017 ONSC 6973, RTC Engineering Consultants Ltd. v. ......
  • COURT OF APPEAL SUMMARIES (February 6, 2023 – February 10, 2023)
    • United States
    • LexBlog United States
    • 11 February 2023
    ...Turner (1993), 105 D.L.R. (4th) 37, Wells v. Sears, 2007 NLCA 2, Leger v. Edmonton (City) (1989), 63 D.L.R. (4th) 279, Horrocks v. Lowe, [1975] A.C. 135, Lemire v. Burley, 2021 ONSC 5036, Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority v. Smith, 2017 ONSC 6973, RTC Engineering Consultants Ltd. v. ......
  • Defamation alleged in relation to teacher performance report
    • Australia
    • Mondaq Australia
    • 6 October 2014
    ...of companies and employers and employees are all relationships which are protected by qualified privilege. As was said in Horrocks v Lowe (1975) AC 135 by Lord "The public interest that the law should provide an effective means whereby a man can vindicate his reputation against calumny has.......
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    • Irwin Books Guide to the Law and Practice of Anti-SLAPP Proceedings Part IX. Procedural Issues in Anti-SLAPP Motions
    • 13 June 2022
    ...Hinch, [2011] HCA 4 ................................................................................................ 462 Horrocks v Lowe, [1975] AC 135 .............................................................................................. 219 Hourani v Thomson & Ors (Rev 1), [2017] ......
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    • 15 June 2011
    ...365 Horrocks v. Lowe, [1975] A.C. 135 (H.L.) ....................................................................................... 24 Hosking and Hosking v. Simon Runting and Anor, [2004] NZCA 34 ............................. 381– 82 Howlett v Holding, [2006] EHWC 41 (QB) ......................
  • Summary of Defamation Law
    • Canada
    • Irwin Books Guide to the Law and Practice of Anti-SLAPP Proceedings Part I. Background and Context
    • 13 June 2022
    ...“qualiied” privilege, meaning that the privilege can be defeated by proof that the defendant acted with malice: see Horrocks v. Lowe , [1975] A.C. 135 (H.L.). The defences 5 6 | Guide to the Law and Practice of anti-SLaPP ProceedinGS of absolute and qualiied privilege relect the fact that “......
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    • Irwin Books Guide to the Law and Practice of Anti-SLAPP Proceedings Part V. The Merits Hurdle
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    ...not absolute and can be defeated if the dominant motive for publishing the statement is actual or express malice. See Horrocks v. Lowe , [1975] A.C. 135 (H.L.), at p. 149. [145] Malice is commonly understood, in the popular sense, as spite or illwill. However, it also includes, as Dickson J......
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