Fidelis O. Ebuwa And Ors V. The United Africa Company Ltd. (1955)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal
Libel—express malice—statements of fact—fair comment—consolidated suits—joint tort feasors—onejudgmentfor damages in both suits.
These were two separate actions for libel against different defendants which were consolidated and tried together. The first action was against the proprietors of a newspaper, the Eastern Nigeria Guardian, which had published the article complained of and the Editor of that paper.
In the second action the publication complained of was contained in a letter allegedly signed by the twelve defendants in this suit, which was substantially the same as the offending article published in the newspaper and the subject of the first action.
It was also alleged in the second action that the defendants here caused the offending article to be published in the newspaper.
The trial Judge found, inter alia, that the letter containing the libel was actuated by
express malice and that the charges therein made against the plaintiffs were untrue. Hegave judgment for £3,000 damages jointly against the defendants in both the consolidated actions in respect of the publication in the Eastern Nigeria Guardian and £1,500 against the defendants in the second action for the publication of the letter.
On appeal it was argued that the trial Judge was wrong in following the decision in Smith v Streatfield (1) by holding that the malice of the defendants in the second action destroyed the defence of fair comment as pleaded by the defendants in the first action.
It was also argued that the trial Judge was wrong in giving one judgment for £3,000 jointly against the defendants in both cases. There were various other points argued and dealt with in the judgment.
1. If the statements complained of are defamatory and are of fact, not of opinion,
and are proved to be untrue and made maliciously, a newspaper publishing them cannot successfully sustain a defence of fair comment.
2. In consolidated actions where the defendants in both actions are joint tort feasors, only one judgment can be given in respect of the joint tort.