Evidence required in defamation case

A Scottish judge has ruled that a court should hear evidence in a £100,000 defamation action by Irene Adams, the Labour MP for Paisley North, against Guardian Newspapers.

The MP is suing over allegations that she betrayed a family confidence by leaking to the media a suicide note left by Gordon McMaster, her friend and parliamentary colleague. The allegations were carried in the Scottish edition of The Observer in April 1998.

In a written decision from the Court of Session, Lord Reed rejected attempts by Guardian Newspapers to plead that what was published in The Observer was true, fair comment, attracted parliamentary privilege, and did not have a defamatory meaning.

However, the judge has allowed further evidence on the paper’s claim that the story was covered by qualified privilege. This defence would protect the publishers as long as the story was not published maliciously.

Lord Reed decided it would be premature to reach a final view on the question of qualified privilege without hearing further evidence. No date for a future hearing has been fixed.

By Hamish Mackay

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