Full case report

Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd

Reference [2015] EWHC 620 (QB)
Court High Court of Justice

Judge Sir David Eady (sitting as a Judge of the High Court)

Date of Judgment 11 Mar 2015


Summary

Libel – Trial of a Preliminary Issue on Meaning – Repetition Rule – pleadings – meanings – truth – Lucas-Box meanings – Polly-Peck


Facts

The Claimant BL, a French national, married a British national AL in 2010. They then moved to Dubai, where AL gave birth to their son LL. They later divorced.

In January/February 2014, two newspapers (The Independent and the London Evening Standard) published articles that BL claimed were defamatory of him (at common law, and under section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013).

The Claimant pleaded that The Independent article meant that:

“the Claimant:

(i)        became violent towards his ex-wife Afsana soon after the birth of their son, which caused her, fearing for her safety, to escape and go on the run with the child;

(ii)       having tracked Afsana down, callously and without justification snatched their son back from his mother’s arms; and

(iii)      falsely accused Afsana of kidnapping their son, a false charge which if upheld could result in her, quite unfairly and wrongly, spending several years in a Dubai jail.”

 

Meanwhile, the Claimant’s case was that the London Evening Standard article meant that:

“the Claimant:

(i)        became violent and abusive towards his ex-wife Afsana within months of marrying her, beating her and leaving her with bruises on at least one occasion;

(ii)       assaulted Afsana in public on custody visits relating to their young son;

(iii)      attempted to snatch their son on one custody visit, leaving him with a badly bruised head;        

(iv)       callously and without justification snatched their son from out of his pushchair in the street; and

(v)        subjected Afsana to the grotesque injustice of facing jail in Dubai for “abducting” her own child, when in truth she had only fled with him to escape the Claimant’s violent abuse.”

The Defendants admitted these meanings subject to certain minor qualifications. They also advanced defences of truth in relation to somewhat differently worded Lucas-Box meanings which overlapped to some extent with the Claimant’s pleaded meanings.

The parties agreed that meaning should be tried as a preliminary issue.


Issue

1) Did the articles bear the natural and ordinary meanings pleaded by the claimant?

2) Did the articles bear the Lucas-Box meanings pleaded by the defendants?

3) What was the status of the ‘repetition rule’ following the introduction of the new statutory defence of truth under section 2 of the Defamation Act 2013?


Held

1) As a matter of substance the articles bore the claimant’s pleaded meanings. While judges were not limited by the parties’ pleaded meanings, nor should they strive to find different words to express the same matter, merely for the purpose of emphasising their independence [6].

2)  It was legitimate for a defendant to plead additional defamatory Lucas-Box meanings (i.e. over and above those pleaded by the claimant) as long as they did not convey a “separate and distinct” sting, so as to fall foul of the rule in Polly-Peck (Holdings) Plc v Trelford [1986] 1000, 1032. The defendant’s additional defamatory imputations were largely permissible [39]-[41].

3) Accordingly, The Independent article meant [40]:

“The Claimant:

(i) became violent towards his ex-wife Afsana soon after the birth of their son, which caused her, fearing for her safety, to escape and go on the run with the child;

(ii) having tracked Afsana down, callously and without justification snatched their son back from his mother’s arms (and has never returned him);

(iii) falsely accused Afsana of kidnapping their son, a false charge which if upheld could result in her, quite unfairly and wrongly, spending several years in a Dubai jail;

(iv) was content to use Emirati law and its law enforcement system, which discriminate against women, in order to deprive Afsana of custody of and access to their son Louis;

(v) hid the child’s French passport and refused to allow him to be registered as a British citizen, as Afsana wished;

(vi) was violent, abusive and controlling and caused Afsana to fear for her own safety;

(vii) caused her passport to be confiscated thus for her to be trapped in the UAE;

(viii) obtained custody on a false basis and also initiated a prosecution of Afsana in the UAE, which was founded upon a false allegation of abduction, and which gave rise to the risk of a lengthy prison sentence there.”

4) And the London Evening Standard article meant [41]:

“The Claimant:

(i) became violent and abusive towards his ex-wife Afsana within months of marrying her, beating her and leaving her with bruises on at least one occasion;

(ii) assaulted Afsana in public on custody visits relating to their young son;

(iii) attempted to snatch their son on one custody visit, leaving him with a badly bruised head;

(iv) callously and without justification snatched their son from out of his pushchair in the street (and has never returned him);

(v) subjected Afsana to the injustice of facing jail in Dubai for “abducting” her own child, when in truth she had only fled with him to escape the Claimant’s violent abuse;

(vi) having chosen to obtain a divorce in a Sharia court, also used Emirati law and its law enforcement system, which discriminate against women, in order to deprive Afsana of custody of and access to their son Louis;

(vii) hid the child’s French passport and refused to allow him to be registered as a British citizen, as Afsana wished;

(viii) was violent, abusive and controlling and caused Afsana to fear for her own safety;

(ix) caused her passport to be confiscated thus for her to be trapped in the UAE;

(x) threatened to report Rabbhi and Shabbir Yahiya to the police for aiding a kidnap if they came to Dubai;

(xi) caused Afsana to go on the run with Louis;

(xii) obtained custody on a false basis and also initiated a prosecution of Afsana in the UAE, which was founded upon a false allegation of abduction, and which gave rise to the risk of a lengthy prison sentence there.”

5) There was no reason to suppose that the long established (although only relatively recently named) “repetition rule” had been impliedly abrogated by the Defamation Act 2013. Insofar as the defamatory statements were attributed to AL’s family, the defendants would have to prove the truth of the substantive allegations, not just the fact that the allegations had been made [42].


Comment

This case will be noteworthy primarily for confirming that the common law “repetition rule” and the principle in Polly-Peck survive the enactment of the new statutory defence of truth.


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Instructing Solicitors

Taylor Hampton for the Claimant; David Price Solicitors and Advocates for the Defendants