Economou v de Freitas judgment expected tomorrow - LEGAL COMMENT
Economou -v- De Freitas
Commenting on Economou v de Freitas ahead of the Court of Appeal judgment expected tomorrow morning, Mishcon de Reya's Head of Reputation Protection, Emma Woollcott, said:
"Economou was the first full trial of the public interest defence in its new statutory form under the Defamation Act 2013. The proper interpretation of the defence, including what constitutes a "reasonable belief" that publication is in the public interest, is under the spotlight.
"The Court of Appeal's findings will have implications not just for editors and journalists, but also for those who, like Mr de Freitas, speak out on important – and controversial – issues."
Background to the case:
The background to Economou v de Freitas is, as the High Court Judge agreed in July 2016, both striking and tragic. The claimant, Alexander Economou, had a relationship with the daughter of the defendant, David de Freitas. In January 2013, she accused Mr Economou of rape. He was arrested, but not charged, and brought a private prosecution against her - later taken over by the CPS - alleging that she had made false allegations against him with the intent to pervert the court of justice. Ms de Freitas denied the charge and, four days before trial, took her own life. Mr Economou then sued Mr de Freitas in libel over various press statements he made about the conduct of the CPS, which he said amounted to an allegation that he was guilty of rape.
The High Court agreed that the implied meaning of the statements was that there were strong grounds to suspect that Mr Economou was guilty of rape, and had falsely prosecuted Ms de Freitas. But, it also upheld Mr de Freitas' defence of public interest: the statements were on a matter of public interest, and Mr Economou reasonably believed that publishing them was in the public interest. In particular, the Court found that Mr de Freitas' tone was measured and responsible, and that he would have struggled to express his sincere doubts about the conduct of the CPS without impliedly defaming the claimant. To find for Mr Economou would represent "an interference with Mr de Freitas' free speech rights out of any reasonable proportion to the need to protect and vindicate Mr Economou's reputation". Mr Economou appealed.
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