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Libel damages intended to ‘compensate rather than punish’, LCJ says

Baby P's father has compensation cut from 75,000 to 50,000

31 October 2012

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Libel damages are intended to “compensate the victim rather than punish the perpetrator”, the Lord Chief Justice has said.

Lord Judge was ruling at the Court of Appeal in two cases, one involving New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns and the other the father of Baby P, who has remained anonymous but sued for libel after he was accused in The People of being a rapist.

Lord Judge said the allegations against Baby P’s father, known as KC, were “completely untrue” and the tabloid blamed them on a blunder, in that Baby P’s maternal grandfather, not KC, had raped a 14-year-old girl.

Giving judgment on behalf of the court in Cairns v Modi and KC v MGN [2012] EWCA Civ 1382, Lord Judge said: “It is hard to exaggerate the seriousness of the publication of a false assertion that a man of good character has been convicted of the rape of a child.”

However, he said assessment of damages for libel remained a “fact specific” decision.

Lord Judge pointed out that KC had remained anonymous throughout the currency of the libel and the falsity of the allegation was corrected at a very early stage.

Mr Justice Bean in the High Court chose £150,000 as a starting point in assessing damages for KC and reduced it by 50 per cent to allow for the offer of amends made by the newspaper.

The LCJ said the court had reflected on the “nature and extent of the personal injury which would culminate in an award of £150,000” and suggested it might be awarded following a “moderately severe brain injury”.

Had the allegation been “directly and expressly” repeated and had KC been identified, this could have been an adequate starting point for libel damages.

“However, given the limited number of those who might have read or heard of the false allegation made against him, and appreciate that it did indeed refer to him, the starting point was too high,” Lord Judge said.

“We propose to reduce it to a level which, consistently with the limited publication and early apology, would nevertheless adequately reflect the abhorrent nature of the crime falsely alleged against KC and the damage done to and its impact on him. A proportionate figure for this purpose is £100,000.”

Following a 50 per cent discount for the offer of amends made by the newspaper, the result was a reduced award of £50,000. MGN’s appeal was allowed.

However, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s award of £90,000 to Chris Cairns. He was accused of match fixing by Lalit Modi, chairman of the Indian Premier League, on Twitter.

Lord Judge rejected criticism of Bean J’s starting point of £75,000 and uplift of £15,000 to take into account the defendant’s conduct of the hearing, including a “wholesale attack” on the character of the claimant during the trial.

“In our judgment they were proportionate to the seriousness of the allegation and its direct impact on Mr Cairns himself and will serve to vindicate his reputation,” Lord Judge said.

He dismissed the appeal.

Lord Neuberger, former Master of the Rolls, and Mr Justice Eady contributed to the judgment.

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