The Supreme Court has refused the defendant permission to appeal in the important qualified privilege case of Clift v Slough Borough Council ([2010] EWCA Civ 1484).   This means that the jury’s verdict of damages of £12,000 in favour of Ms Clift stands and the correctness of the analysis of the Court of Appeal as to the impact of Article 8 on the law of qualified privilege is confirmed.   The background and effect of the case was analysed in our case comment in January 2011 by Lorna Skinner and Eddie Craven.

The Supreme Court’s refusal of permission was in the standard form

The Court ordered that permission to appeal BE REFUSED because the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by Supreme Court at this time, bearing in mind that the case has already been the subject of judicial decision and reviewed on appeal.”

Behind this bland formulation lies the establishment of an important new point of law which impacts on all public authorities.   As the editors of Carter-Ruck on Libel and Privacy (6th Edn, 2010) put it (dealing with the principle established at first instance [2009] EWHC 1550 (QB) and upheld by the Court of Appeal) it means that

Where … a defendant public authority publishes a defamatory statement concerning the claimant, it will only be able to rely on qualified privilege, by way of defence if it can show that any such publication was justified under art 8(2)” (para 12.15).

It is now clear that the Article 8 right to reputation impacts on the operation of the law libel.  It seems unlikely that the Clift case will be the end of this process.  The significance of the decision has been widely recognised by legal commentators.  Its implications remain fully to be worked out, particularly in relation to publications by private individuals.