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Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers Ltd and Others AC 534,  1 All ER 1011,  2 WLR 449, 91 LGR 179 House of Lords Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Griffiths, Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Browne-Wilkinson and Lord Woolf Defamation - Parties - Corporation - Publication relating to administration of local authority's superannuation fund - Publication insinuating maladministration of pension funds - Balance between public interest in freedom of speech and protection of authority's reputation - Whether local authority entitled to maintain action in defamation The plaintiff, a local authority, brought an action for damages for libel against the defendants in respect of two newspaper articles which had questioned the propriety of investments made for its superannuation fund. 71; Die Spoorbond v South African Railways, 1946 A. 999 and Argus Printing and Publishing Co Ltd v Inkatha Freedom Party, 1992 (3) S. 579.] The Court of Appeal erred in holding that Manchester Corporation v Williams  1 QB 94; 63 L. 805 conflicts with the Bognor decision and casts doubt on the general principle that a local authority is entitled to sue for libel.  2 AC 306.]Even if a governmental body is entitled to sue for libel, a constitutional privilege should attach to a publication imputing maladministration to such a body.
 QB 770 holding, on a preliminary issue, that the plaintiff could maintain a cause of action in libel against the defendants in respect of articles in issues of "The Sunday Times" dated 17 and 24 September 1989. At common law trading corporations can sue for libel: Metropolitan Saloon Ombibus Co Ltd v Hawkins (1859) 4 H. Non-trading corporations can also sue: National Union of General and Municipal Workers v Gillian  KB 81. Damage to its reputation may make it more difficult for the authority to borrow money or tender for contracts, and may disaffect its staff or deter participation in its pension scheme. The plaintiff does not have to prove his claim beyond reasonable doubt. That is the way the preliminary point of law was expressed in the order of the master, but it has opened out into an investigation of whether a local authority can sue for libel at all.
The facts are stated in the opinion of Lord Keith of Kinkel. So, too, can trade unions: Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunication and Plumbing Union v Times Newspapers Ltd  QB 585. There is no reason in logic or principle to distinguish the plaintiff from these bodies. The rationale for permitting persons other than individuals to sue for libel thus applies with equal force to local authorities. Balcombe LJ, giving the leading judgement in the Court of Appeal, summarised the facts thus  QB 770, 802:"The facts in the case are fortunately refreshingly simple.
On a preliminary issue as to whether the plaintiff had a cause of action against the defendants, the judge held that a local authority could sue for libel in respect of its governmental and administrative functions, and dismissed the defendants' application to strike out the statement of claim. That case only decided that a local authority could not sue for libel in respect of an imputation of bribery and corruption. The categories of publications which enjoy privilege at common law are not closed: London Association for Protection of Trade v Greenlands Ltd  2 AC 15. Unlike a criminal prosecution, in a civil action the plaintiff does not need to show a prima facie case as a pre-condition to going for trial. If there is a need for greater protection to be given to freedom of expression, the manner of achieving that ought not to be an arbitrary removal from certain plaintiffs of their rights, but should be by extension of existing common law defences.
On appeal by the defendants, the Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff could not bring the action for libel. Bognor Regis Urban District Council v Campion  2 QB 169 overruled. The basis of the decision was the wrong conclusion that a local authority cannot commit those offences. There is no statutory restriction preventing the plaintiff from taking action for libel. An individual councillor or local government officer can bring proceedings in his own name for an attack upon his personal reputation in relation to his official activities. The freedom to express criticism of a governmental body can be more easily stifled by a series of civil actions than by criminal prosecutions: City of Chicago v Tribune Co, 139 N. The mere issue of a writ tends to have a gagging effect; and once proceedings are set down for trial, they become active so that further publications are caught by the strict liability rule: section 2(3) of, and Schedule 1 to, the Contempt of Court Act 1981. The route to reform should be through the law of privilege.
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