The right of journalists to report court documents without fear of being sued for libel has been upheld by the High Court after it struck out a libel claim against The Sun brought a pair of asylum seekers.
The pair sued The Sun for £850,000 in libel damages over a story it ran saying they were seeking a massive payout to take their children on holiday.
Afham Ismail and his wife Bibi sued over story the newspaper ran in July last year which was based on documents filed with the courts in a "discrimination" action they were seeking to bring against the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
The story, headlined "Asylum seekers: Pay for us to have a hol", said the couple were demanding a £100,000 payout, arguing that their two children had been deprived of their rights to have enough books, toys, food and holidays, and said they also wanted an extra £50 a week in handouts, as they could not live on benefits of £181 a week.
Mr Justice Eady gave the newspaper summary judgment in a decision handed down yesterday.
The judge said the couple, who assessed the worth of their claim at £850,000, believed they had been unjustly treated.
But they had not sufficiently taken into account the latitude which had long been permitted under English law for reports of court proceedings.
The content of the article was based on the pleadings in the UKBA case – which was struck out in April – and most of the elements comprising the article were reflected in those documents.
Privilege attached to "a fair and accurate copy of or extract from any register or other document required by law to be open to public inspection" by virtue of section 15 and Schedule 1, Part 1 of the Defamation Act 1996, the judge said.
"Minor errors will not undermine such a defence. The headline was of course intended to be punchy and eye-catching.
"The basic facts were given a 'tabloid tweak', in the sense that the passing reference to 'holidays' had been rather buried away as part of a more general illustration of the family's limited circumstances; they were not actually 'demanding a £100,000 payment – so they can take their two kids on holiday'. But I do not regard such a gloss as falling outside the permitted leeway."
Granting summary judgment to News Group Newspapers, he said that, overall, there was no allegation in the article which would not be capable of being defended by way of justification or fair comment on the basis of the case pleaded in the UKBA case.