Times launches Loutchansky appeal

A newspaper’s right to publish back copies on its website for the benefit of the public is at the heart of The Times’s libel battle against Russian businessman Dr Gregori Loutchansky, a court heard this week.

It has "a social and moral duty" to protect its internet archive and not to delete articles that have been published, the newspaper claimed in a written submission.

To delete material would be "to airbrush history in a manner worthy of Stalin’s Soviet union", it said.

The Times this week launched a challenge at the Court of Appeal against the 11 May High Court ruling of Mr Justice Gray in the case, which centres on findings that the paper libelled Dr Loutchansky in articles accusing him of being the boss of a major Russian criminal organisation involved in money-laundering.

Among other things The Times is appealing against the judge’s rejection of a defence of qualified privilege. The paper claims that the articles concerned matters of the greatest interest and importance to the public and that the defence should have been allowed by the judge.

Opening the appeal for The Times, Lord Lester QC told the court headed by Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips, that the issues under appeal raised the question of the balance between the constitutional right to freedom of expression and protection of an individual’s right to his reputation.

"The right to free speech must not be unnecessarily chilled by defamation law," he said.

He said that the fact a paper was unable to prove the truth of what it alleged did not mean that the allegations were false, and still less that the press should be prevented or deterred from communicating the information and opinions obtained from app-arently reliable sources such as police and intelligence sources.

Lord Lester also argued that the defence of qualified privilege should be extended to cover internet archives.

Desmond Browne QC, acting for Dr Loutchansky, described The Times’s submission as "startling". "It is a newspaper of record because it is meant to record truth, not to perpetuate falsity."

The hearing, in which judgment is expected to be reserved, continues.

By Roger Pearson

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