Nadine Dorries, one of the Conservative MPs smeared by the UK civil servant Damian McBride, has announced she will be consulting her lawyers.
She is not someone I support politically (and indeed I strongly oppose on social liberal issues), but the clear nastiness of McBride is sickening in its cynicism.
Already she is receiving comments on her (excellent) Blog site from well-wishers seeking to explain libel law.
But I really do hope she asks her solicitors about the rare - but potent - tort of malicious falsehood. It appears to me, from the outside, that this is one of the few cases where it would be more appropriate than libel.
The reputation of Ms Dorries has perhaps not suffered - as no one believes the allegations - but it appears she has been a victim of a deliberate attempt to promote a falsehood - and by a civil servant in 10 Downing Street to external persons.
And malicious falsehood is what English common law can provide for in such circumstances. It may be that McBride's lawyers will try to take a point on there being no damage; but perhaps that could be left for the court to decide. Moreover, unless McBride undertakes not to repeat the malicious falsehood, there could always be injunctive relief. The tort is actionable for both actual and potential damage.
In my informal view, McBride may be well advised to seek to quickly settle any claim with an apology, costs, a formal admission that it was a malicious falsehood, an equally formal undertaking that it will not be repeated, and perhaps even a payment of damages either to Ms Dorries or a charity.
Furthermore, I am sure neither McBride nor the Crown would enjoy the formal "disclosure" exercise of relevant materials (formerly known as "discovery"). The very strict obligations on parties to civil litigation in respect of providing the other party with "deleted" emails and metadata - see Paragraph 2A.1 of the relevant court Practice Direction - will be a real shock to those who complacently knock back or craftily evade Freedom of Information and Data Protection requests.
In any case, the circumstances of McBride's smear would surely not be an attractive fact situation for McBride to wish to be before an English High Court prone both to developing media law alternatives to libel (such as privacy and confidentiality) and to robustly checking abuses of public power and public office.
*Substance of above post elaborated for sense after being listed as a link on ConservativeHome. Also see disclaimer on right: as always, this Blog is journalism and not legal advice*