Judge rejects 'Reynolds' defence in Armstrong v Sunday Times case

The “Reynolds” libel defence – that it is in the public interest that information about which there is no assertion of truth should nevertheless be published and that in those circumstances it should be regarded as privileged – has been defeated a second time in a month at the High Court.

Early in December Mr Justice Eady rejected it in the George Galloway versus Daily Telegraph libel case.

Now the same judge has thrown out the defence in an action by cycling champion Lance Armstrong, who is suing Times Newspapers over a piece based on claims made in a book that he says imputed that he had taken illicit, performance enhancing drugs to help achieve his five Tour de France wins.

The judge had been asked to decide whether the article was capable of imputing that there were reasonable grounds to suspect Armstrong of having taken such drugs.

The judge ruled the piece was capable of bearing a defamatory meaning.

The Sunday Times claimed, it was in the public interest to publish the allegations made in a book by David Walsh and was therefore subject to qualified privilege. Walsh is also being sued with The Sunday Times .

Rejecting the claims that The Sunday Times was under a duty to publish what it did, and could thereby avail itself of the Reynolds defence, the judge said: “Having made due allowance for the width of the common law principles as now recognised, and making all relevant factual assumptions in their favour, I cannot see that the defendants could be said to be under a duty to publish allegations to the effect that Armstrong had probably taken performance-enhancing drugs or that, given his prowess in the Tour de France, he ‘must’ have done so.”

“I would readily accept, of course, that the use of forbidden drugs in sport is a matter of public concern.”

By Roger Pearson

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