The African Press Ltd. V. Dr. Okechukwu Ikejian (1953)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West Africa Court of Appeal
Tort — Libel — Untrue allegation — Defence of fair comment — Qualified privilege—Malice. Appeals in Civil Cases—Test ofintervention on damages awarded—Uniformity of costs desirable.
The respondent as plaintiff below sued in libel in respect of an article headed “The Fraudulent Saints of Africa ” which attacked “ noisy and dishonest followers ” of someone and alleged of the respondent that he “ claimed to have obtained a doctorate degree in medicine ”, that “ it was later proved that the degree was a fake ”, and that ” consequently the quack expert was kicked out of
the University ”; and he was referred to as one of those ” dishonest followers ”, as a ” fraudulent nationalist ”, and as one who has “ waxed rich at the expense of the honest but credulous public ”.
In fact the plaintiff had a degree as a doctor of medicine, so the allegation that it was a ” fake ” was untrue. He had however claimed to be a doctor of science and received an academic appointment at a higher salary than he would have had, which he was forced to give up on its being discovered that he was not a doctor of science.
The trial Judge held that the article was a gross and very damaging libel and awarded the plaintiff £750 as damages and £200 as costs plus his out-of-pocket expenses.
The defendants appealed and argued (a) that the comment was warranted by the fact that the plaintiff had falsely claimed to be a doctor of science, (6) that there was a bona fide duty to tell the public that he was not discharged from his appointment on political grounds and to encourage honesty, (c) that the damages awarded were excessive, and (d) that the costs allowed were inordinate.
(1) The defamatory comment hung upon the alleged fact that the respondent-plaintiff falsely claimed to be a doctor of medicine; that allegation was untrue; therefore the comment hanging upon it could not be fair.
(2) Whether or not the defence of privilege could be raised, the recklessness with which that untrue allegation was made and the violent language and general tenor of the article, which struck at the respondent-plaintiff’s professional practice in medicine, justified the trial Judge in holding that the publication was malicious—a finding which destroyed that defence.
(3) The damages would not be disturbed, for there was no mistake in principle or the basis of assessment, nor was the amount so excessive as to disclose an entirely erroneous estimate of the injury suffered.
(4) The costs allowed were out of all proportion to the damages awarded and to the length of the trial, and the costs would be reduced having regard to the costs allowed in a similar case.
Appeal dismissed but order on costs below varied.