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Morgan v Odhams Press

[1971] 2 All ER 1156

Case summary last updated at 17/01/2020 18:49 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Morgan v Odhams Press

The claimant bought an action against the defendant newspaper in defamation. The newspaper article claimed that a young woman had been kidnapped by a dog-doping gang. At about the time of the kidnapping, she had been staying at the claimant's house. The claimant alleged that there was an innuendo -- that people who knew the circumstances would be led to the conclusion the he was part of the gang himself. By a majority, the House Of Lords held that there was sufficient evidence for the matter to go to a civil jury. There did not need to be a particular `peg or pointer' to a specific individual in a defamatory article, so long as its general tenor would reasonable lead to the individual being identified. HL held that that in determining the impression that would be left on the mind of the reader regard should be had to the character of the article and the class of reader likely to read it; that the relevant impression to be taken into consideration was that which would be conveyed to an ordinary sensible man (having knowledge of the relevant circumstances) reading the article casually and not expecting a high degree of accuracy; that in order to be defamatory of the plaintiff the article complained of had to contain something which, to the mind of a reader with knowledge of the relevant circumstances, contained defamatory imputations and pointed to the plaintiff as the person defamed.

 Lord Reid: We ought to be realistic in determining what inferences will be drawn by an ordinary sensible reader, NOT what would be inferred by a cautious lawyer. Logic is not the issue. In being realistic, we ought consider the class of reader

 Lord Donovan (dissenting on the “class of reader” point) : If we say that the nature of the readers is to be considered in assessing whether there is defamation, we would end up with two classes of “reasonableness” for inference and two classes of “ordinary, sensible reader” i.e. an ordinary reader of the sun is different from an ordinary reader of The Times. This would mean that an article published in a quality newspaper is not defamatory whereas one in the a tabloid is not (This is relevant here as, if the readers had read the full article they would have known that P wasn’t part of the gang, but if they only look at the headlines/pictures they would think he was). 

 Lord Pearson: “The question for the judge in a case such as this is not something separate and independent from the question for the jury, but is whether there is evidence on which a reasonable jury, properly directed and acting properly, could give an answer in favour of the plaintiff.”

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