On 1 July 2021 the High Court awarded Bruno Lachaux £120,000 in damages in his long running libel action against the publishers of The Independent, the i and the Evening Standard. The articles complained of date back to 2014 and accused Mr Lachaux of a number of very serious actions including violence towards his ex-wife and kidnap of their son.
Whilst initially both publications had sought to rely on the defences of truth and neutral reportage, they later withdrew these and sought instead to rely soley on the defence of public interest.
In dismissing this defence, Mr Justice Nicklin was highly critical of the fact that the publishers had failed to properly verify the very serious allegations made in the articles and in particular had failed to approach Mr Lachaux prior to publication for comment and/or fairly represent his comments in the subsequent articles. The Judge found that "the decision not to contact the claimant [for comment] was not a result of any careful editorial consideration, it was a mistake." He went on to criticise the lack of contemporaneous record keeping by the newspapers and reiterated that if the public interest defence was to be successfully relied upon, journalists and their editors needed to be mindful that the burden of proof was on them to demonstrate how and by whom this decision was reached at the time in order to demonstrate that it was a reasonable conclusion to reach.
The more serious the allegations the greater the burden on any publisher seeking to rely on a public interest defence to take their journalistic responsibilities seriously. Allegations must be put to those who will be harmed by them and any responses reasonably reflected in resulting publications.
The Judge found that in order to be able to rely on the public interest defence, it was incumbent upon the Defendant newspapers to verify the allegations in relation to Bruno Lachaux in light of their gravity. The subject of particular criticism was the failure of any of the journalists and editors to approach him for comment and fairly represent his response in the articles.