Thursday, 12 June 2014

Parish councils and the law of defamation

The current spat between Felsham Parish Council and the Editorial Team of the 'Village News' continues. (See Agenda item 15 for meeting of 20 May 2014: "To consider any action in response to a recently published article in Village News")

One of the words thrown about in the discussion was "defamatory".  This has been defined like this:
A defamatory statement is one “which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally or to cause him to be shunned or avoided or to expose him to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to convey an imputation on him disparaging or injurious to him in his office, profession, calling, trade or business” (Halsbury’s Laws of England).
This definition can be found in the NALC LTN 30 for March 2013.  The same article goes on to state:
Public and local authorities (including local councils) can NOT be defamed. This is now settled law: the House of Lords held that it was in the highest interest of the public to allow a council to be subject to scrutiny and criticism, and it would be contrary to such interest for local authorities to have any common law right to bring an action for defamation.
If the Council were to cry "defamation" every time it was criticized then accountability to local electors would be completely undermined. Thus:
 Parish Councils cannot be defamed!