Court Upholds Defamation Defences in Yeo v Times Newspapers Ltd

Citation: [2015] EWHC 3375 (QB)
Judgment on


In the High Court of Justice Queen’s Bench Division case of Yeo v Times Newspapers Ltd ([2015] EWHC 3375 (QB)), Mr Justice Warby delivered a judgment addressing several intricate legal principles. The case revolved around defamation claims brought by Tim Yeo, a former MP, against Times Newspapers Ltd (TNL), following the publication of articles alleging that Mr Yeo was willing to act as a paid advocate in breach of the House of Commons’ Code of Conduct. The ruling discussed the defences of justification, honest comment, and Reynolds privilege within the context of defamation law.

Key Facts

Tim Yeo claimed that the defendant, TNL, had libelled him in articles suggesting he was prepared to act as a paid Parliamentary advocate for a foreign energy company. TNL advanced defences of justification (truth), honest comment (previously termed fair comment), and Reynolds privilege (responsible journalism on a matter of public interest). The case hinged on whether Mr Yeo did indeed express a willingness to engage in conduct that would breach parliamentary conduct rules during an undercover investigation by journalists posing as a consultancy firm.

The court examined several legal principles pertinent to the case:

  • Defamation and Serious Harm: The articles must convey a defamatory meaning serious enough to harm Mr Yeo’s reputation.

  • Justification (Truth): Proof that the defamatory sting of the imputation is substantially true in substance.

  • Honest Comment: Protection of defamatory comments ascertainable as the opinion of an honest person based on facts.

  • Reynolds Privilege: Journalistic conduct is measured against a standard of responsible journalism, which includes the reasonableness of the journalists’ beliefs and the journalistic process for gathering and publishing the information.

  • Article 8 and 10 of ECHR: Considering whether the right to respect for private life and freedom of expression applies and if both articles are engaged, a balance must be struck.


The court held:

  1. Reynolds Privilege: The articles related to Mr Yeo’s conduct as an MP and Chairman of a Select Committee, serving a public interest in exposing potential breaches of the MPs’ Code of Conduct. The investigation and presentation of the article met the requirements of responsible journalism.

  2. Justification: TNL successfully proved, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr Yeo was willing and had offered to act as a paid advocate in breach of the Code, substantiating the defamatory sting in the articles.

  3. Honest Comment: The court concluded that the defamatory comment within the articles was an opinion that could have been made by an honest person, and it was based on sufficient true facts about Mr Yeo’s willingness to breach the Code.

  4. Other Claims: The claims concerning the 23 June Article about All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) were likewise dismissed as the court upheld both the justification and Reynolds privilege defences equally for this publication.


In Yeo v Times Newspapers Ltd, it is evident that the delicate balance between freedom of expression and the right to protect one’s reputation is judiciously maintained through stringent legal tests. While acknowledging the latitude given to journalists, the court scrutinised the facts against the accusations, ultimately upholding the principles of responsible journalism and honest comment. Despite Mr Yeo’s contention, TNL’s rigorous journalistic process and reasonable belief in the truth of their articles warranted the protections afforded by the law, leading to the dismissal of the defamation claims. The case clarifies the threshold for defamation defences and confirms the high regard for political speech within the ECHR framework.