Goldsmith v Bhoyrul [1998] QB 459

Key Point

  • Political parties cannot sue in defamation.

Facts

  • The claimants operated a political party. The defendants published an article claiming that the claimants had lied to the electorate. The claimants sued in defamation.
  • The defendants argued that Derbyshire CC v Times Newspapers should be extrapolated to bar political parties from bringing actions in defamation.

Held (High Court, Queen’s Bench Division)

  • In favor of the defendants.
  • Derbyshire was based on the protection of free speech in practical terms; denying political parties standing to sue in defamation is a necessary extension of that principle.

Buckley J

  • ‘Both from Lord Keith’s own remarks and those appearing in the cases he cited in his speech [in  Derbyshire CC v Times Newspapers], it is clear that the principle which led to his conclusion is that in a free, democratic society those who hold office in government and/or are responsible for public administration (central or local) must always be open to criticism and it is contrary to the public interest to permit them to sue in defamation because that would place an undesirable fetter on freedom of speech.’: p. 410

Commentary

  • There may be room to argue that this case may be distinguished on its facts should a larger party ever undertake such an action – the claimant party in this case was a small one with its machinery effectively dominated by one man (I. Loveland, Public Law 1998).
  • There may be a different balancing of interests required considering the larger portions of the public involved with larger parties if this ratio were ever to be considered in relation to them.