In June 1971 the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Advocate appointed a Committee “to consider whether, in the light of the working of the Defamation Act 1952, any changes are desirable in the law, practice and procedure relating to actions for defamation”. The Report produced by this Committee on Defamation, which came to be known as the Faulks Committee after its chairman Mr Justice Faulks, was presented to Parliament in March 1975.
At paragraph 232 of this Report, under the heading “Technical and Scientific Journals”, the Faulks Committee made the following recommendation
We think that there should be a new statutory qualified privilege for articles of a technical or scientific nature in genuine technical and scientific journals. For example, doctors should be allowed to write with reasonable freedom in medical journals without having to worry too much over the possibility of a libel action. We recommend accordingly. In order to prevent journals pretending to be technical or scientific to enjoy this privilege, the majority of us consider that the statute should provide that all journals seeking to rely on it must be approved by and registered with an appropriate authority, such as a government department with special responsibilities in the field of technology and science, the precise identity of the registration authority being, however, a matter for administrative decision by the Government.
Consistently with this recommendation, clause 11(2) of the Draft Defamation Bill included at Appendix III to the Report provided as follows:
“Publication in a technical or scientific journal approved by and registered with the Secretary of State of an article of a technical or scientific nature shall be protected by qualified privilege”.
This recommendation was not adopted, although some years later in Vassiliev v Frank Cass & Co Ltd  EWHC 1428 (QB);  EMLR 33 Eady J ruled that the publication at issue – an article in a journal called Intelligence and National Security, “a specialist publication with a specialist readership who subscribe to it”, with about 146 subscribers in the UK – attracted qualified privilege at common law because it consisted of a “specialist subject matter” in which publisher and readers shared a common interest (see paras.2, 8 & 20 of the judgment).
In the wake of recent complaints about the threat of libel actions having a chilling effect on scientific debate, one wonders whether if Parliament were belatedly to act upon the Faulks Committee’s recommendation that might go some way to address the perceived problem?
Godwin Busuttil ©2010
Godwin Busuttil is a Barrister at 5RB