Thomas Sheridan v News Group Newspapers Limited

Thomas Sheridan is entitled to interest on the £200,000 damages he was awarded following his successful defamation action against the publishers of the News of the World, at the judicial rate of 8% per year from the date of the jury’s verdict in 2006 until the principal sum was paid in 2017.

The First Division of the Court of Session has allowed an appeal by the pursuer (“Mr Sheridan”) against a judge’s decision to decline to award any interest on the damages awarded by the jury; the judge having granted an application to apply the jury’s verdict following an unsuccessful appeal by the defenders (“News Group Newspapers”) for a new trial in light of Mr Sheridan’s conviction for perjury in 2010. The following is a summary of the opinion of the court. 

The issue was whether, following the unsuccessful appeal by News Group, interest should be allowed on the damages awarded by the jury from the time when, but for the appellate proceedings, interest would have been applied. 

The Lord President, Lord Carloway, delivering the opinion of the court, said: “First, there is no rule at common law that interest is not payable on damages until the decree of the court of final appeal.  Although originally at common law there was an emphasis on the need for the liquidation of damages before interest could run, and hence a stress on the need for a decree, where there had been a quantification of damage at an earlier date, interest could run from that date. 

“Secondly, there has always been a discretion to award interest from the date when a jury’s verdict could have been applied...or that when a Lord Ordinary has advised the case. 

“Thirdly, in so far as some cases express the view that quantification occurs only when a final court of appeal pronounces judgment... these cases, in their application to situations where there has been a jury’s verdict or a judge’s interlocutor which is upheld on appeal, are inconsistent with the principle behind an award of interest and with the dicta to the effect that interest should run at least from the date of quantification.  This is because it is from that date, at the latest, that the pursuer, if he eventually wins, has been out of pocket and unable to use the damages to which he is later found entitled to be paid. 

“Even assessing this matter at common law, therefore, the pursuer ought to have been entitled to interest from the date when the jury’s verdict would, but for the motion for a new trial, have been applied.” 

The Lord President added: “The reasons special to the cause which the Lord Ordinary found relevant were, first, that the defenders had not caused any unreasonable delay (and thus had not wrongfully withheld payment) given that the grounds for a new trial were ‘anything but frivolous’.  He held that the defenders were not responsible for the time taken to resolve the appeal and payment of the principal sum.  The reasons for these matters, according to the Lord Ordinary, lay in the criminal prosecution which arose out of the pursuer’s own conduct.  

“This analysis contains significant flaws.  First, it was the defenders who initiated a motion for a new trial, in the knowledge that this could delay payment, and secondly, and most important, they failed in their attempt to have the jury’s verdict overturned.  The fact that they were unsuccessful ought to have been the central feature of the Lord Ordinary’s thinking rather than the fact that the defenders had had arguable grounds to pursue. 

“It is not possible either to agree with the Lord Ordinary’s view that many would find it difficult to comprehend the inclusion in the verdict of a further £200,637 or £173,159.  There is no difficulty at all in understanding that a person who is defamed, and to whom a jury awarded £200,000 as damages for the effect on his reputation, such as it may have been, should be entitled to interest on that sum from on or about the date of the award until payment as compensation for the loss of use of that money.”

The full opinion is available on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service website

Notes to editors 

This summary is provided to assist in understanding the court’s judgment. It does not form part of the reasons for the decision. The full opinion is the only authoritative document.

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