Supreme Court hands down major defamation decision in Lachaux case

Yesterday the Supreme Court delivered its decision in the case of Lachaux, in doing so providing authoritative clarification of the meaning of "serious harm" in the Defamation Act 2013.

Imagecredit: flickr/creative commons, Jon S

The Supreme Court Justices unanimously rejected the appeal of The Independent, i, and the Evening Standard that the High Court and Court of Appeal had erred in establishing that serious harm had been caused to the claimant, Bruno Lachaux.

The appellants had separately published stories detailing the rocky divorce and subsequent custody battle between Bruno Lachaux, a French aerospace engineer, and Afsana Lachaux. The couple lived in Dubai at the relevant time, with Bruno initiating divorce proceedings in April 2011 to seek custody of their son, Louis. Afsana went into hiding, with a UAE court then awarding custody to Bruno. Mr Lachaux then found and reclaimed Louis, whilst instituting criminal proceedings against Afsana for alleged abduction.

In early 2014, the appellants published stories detailing the events described above. Bruno sued in the High Court for defamation, with the High Court deciding that the articles complained of each had multiple defamatory meanings, including: that Bruno had been violent and abusive towards his wife, that he had hidden Louis’ passport to prevent Afsana removing him from the UAE, that he had used UAE law and courts to deprive Afsana of custody and contact with their son, that he had callously and without justification reclaimed Louis, and that he had wrongly alleged that Afsana had abducted him.

In the Supreme Court yesterday, Lord Sumption delivered one of his final judgements in dismissing the appeal, which was agreed upon by the remaining four Supreme Court Justices. However, Lord Sumption differed from the Court of Appeal in his analysis of section 1(1) of the Defamation Act 2013, thereby providing a fuller explanation of the meaning of “serious harm” within that section.

Amongst other findings, the Court concluded that the threshold of “serious harm” within section 1(1) must exceed the threshold previously established in the cases of Jameel and Thornton, and that this requirement must be applied in reference to the actual facts of the statement’s impact, not just to the meaning of the words themselves.

The full judgment can be accessed here. Please subscribe or check back with soon for a full analysis and discussion.

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