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To what extent does the Privy Council’s decision in Pinard-Byrne v Linton  UKPC 41 clarify our understanding of the application of the Reynolds defence? Greg Callus, barrister at 5RB, considers the judgment in the context of the developing landscape of defamation.
In the early 1990s, Dominica sought significant inward investment. One policy to encourage this was ‘economic citizenship’, which would give Dominican citizenship to investors and their families. Planned infrastructure included a new airport and hotels, all under a major redevelopment called the Layou River Project.
The claimant, Kieron Pinard-Byrne (KPB) was the owners’ representative on the Layou River Project from 1995, and a partner of the accountancy firm which audited the Oriental Hotel (Dominica) Ltd (OHDL) being the holding company for the Layou River Project. In 1998, KPB left to found his own firms, one of which took over as auditors, and the other acted as company secretary for OHDL.
The Layou River Project was never completed because of natural disasters (mountain collapse and flooding) in 1997, as well as construction fraud, and contractual disputes. Shareholders in OHDL lost money.
Between 2001 and 2003, KPB was accused of wrongdoing by the defendant Lennox Linton (LL) on a number of occasions, calling into a radio broadcast where KPB was being interviewed, and in written online media.
The judge found that the meaning of the words complained of was that KPB had acted discreditably, even criminally, in his capacity as liquidator of a hotel, and that the words complained of accused him of siphoning money from the economic citizenship programme.
The judge found, and the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Carribbean Supreme Court upheld, that there was no basis on which these allegations could be justified as true, nor could they be characterised as ‘comment’. LL did not cross-appeal these rulings to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The sole issue for the Privy Council was whether the Court of Appeal was right to have overruled the judge on the issue of the Reynolds privilege (a qualified privilege in respect of responsible journalism). The judge held that the defence was not made out; the Court of Appeal disagreed. KPB appealed to the Privy Council.
Defamation law recognises that, even though a defamatory statement is an untrue (ie there is no defence of justification) statement of fact (ie no defence of fair comment), there are circumstances that nonetheless excuse publication. These circumstances
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