Court of Appeal dismisses libel claim against CPS Press Release
25 October 2017
The Court of Appeal (England and Wales) recently considered a libel claim concerning the publication by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of a press release announcing charges it had brought against an individual.
In 2015 the individual concerned (the Plaintiff in the libel proceedings) was charged with a number of offences relating to child pornography. The CPS issued a lengthy press release detailing the various charges and the applicable statutes in respect of each. The press release also noted he had been charged with “five charges of making indecent images of children, five charges of possession of indecent images of children, and one charge of possession of a prohibited image”.
The Plaintiff contended that the content of the press release was such that the ordinary reader would understand it was alleged he was involved in both making (in the sense of being present when the images were made) and possessing the images, whereas the factual allegations against him were limited to alleged downloading of the images.
The Defendant contended the press release would be understood as to mean only that the Plaintiff was charged with specified offences, that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute him, and that it was in the public interest to do so.
However, as a matter of law, downloading can constitute “making” under Section 1, Protection of Children Act 1978.
At first instance, the Court determined the words meant the Plaintiff had been charged with the statutory offences as set out in the press release, and that the ordinary reader would not draw any conclusions such as those contended for by the Plaintiff.
On appeal, the Court upheld the decision of the High Court, noting:
- A crucial feature was the context of publication, wherein a prosecuting authority issued an announcement using wording that directly reflected the applicable statutory language;
- The ordinary reader would attach weight to the references to the statutes under which the charges were raised;
- The ordinary reader would understand that words can have a special meaning when used in statutes and by lawyers;
- The phrase “making a photograph” is not an ordinary and natural phrase, reinforcing the impression the phrase is being used in the technical sense;
- To the extent “making a photograph” is more generally understood, it does not carry any necessary implication the “maker” was present at the time the image was made.
Outside of the instant case, perhaps the most interesting development is the addition of context and circumstances of publication to the normal principles used to determine the meaning of words or phrases outlined in Jeynes v News Magazines.
In respect of the criminal charges giving rise to the case, the Plaintiff denies all charges, and is scheduled to appear in Court in February 2018.