The extent of absolute privilege of witness statements subject to defamation proceedings was recently discussed by the English Court of Appeal in Mr Mashood Iqbal v Dean Manson Solicitors & Ors (No 2)  EWCA Civ 149. The rule of absolute privilege provides that no action will lie against a witness for defamatory words used with reference to the inquiry upon which he is called to give evidence. However, this privilege does not extend to statements which have no reference at all to the subject matter of the proceedings.
The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Iqbal's appeal against the lower court's decision that the witness statements produced by Dean Manson Solicitors were covered by absolute privilege. Mr Iqbal claimed that the lower court had misapplied the relevant principles when it stated that the documents in question had "no reference at all to the proceedings." The Court of Appeal, however, considered that there was no relevant distinction between the test of "no reference at all to the subject matter of the proceeding" and the lower court's shortened expression of the principle.
Mr Iqbal also claimed that the documents in question were wholly extraneous, irrelevant and gratuitous libels. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Although the statements in question had only a weak relevance to the subject matter of the proceeding, this was sufficient to satisfy the test as it could not be said that the documents as a whole had no reference at all to the subject-matter of proceeding.