Full case report

Sloutsker v Romanova

Reference [2015] EWHC 2053 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Warby J

Date of Judgment 16 Jul 2015


Summary

Defamation – Assessment of damages for publications online – whether to grant an injunction against a defendant overseas- whether to proceed in the defendant’s absence- whether the court needed to rule on meaning where default judgment had been entered


Facts

C, a Russian citizen and businessman who has strong links to England, sued D, a Russian journalist, in respect of four publications. The first was a blog post written by D on the website of the Moscow-based radio station Echo Moscow; the second and third were publications on a Russian website on which D was quoted and the fourth was a programme broadcast on Radio Liberty. The defamatory meanings complained about were that C had put out a contract for the murder of D’s husband; had ordered the fabrication of evidence in the criminal prosecution of D’s husband; had threatened to kill D’s husband; and had bribed the judge hearing a case involving her husband, as well as the prosecutor.

Permission had been given to serve the claim form out of the jurisdiction (see [2015] EWHC 545 (QB); [2015] 2 Costs LR321). Once served, D never defended the claim and judgment in default was entered against her on 29 May 2015. On 19 June 2015, a few days before this hearing, D wrote a letter to the court setting out what she said were her difficulties in dealing with the claim.


Issue

1. Whether the court should adjourn or proceed in the defendant’s absence.

2. Whether, where default judgment had been entered, it was necessary for the court to rule on meaning.

2. If the court should proceed, what quantum of damages should be awarded to the claimant?

3. If the court should proceed, was it appropriate to grant an injunction?


Held

1. The court should proceed in the absence of the defendant. Although she had written a letter setting our her difficulties in dealing with the case she had not asked for an adjournment; she had not applied for default judgment to be set aside; and she had not served a witness statement backed by a statement of truth. None of the points she made in her letter of 19 June (which are addressed in detail in the judgment) persuaded the court that she is or had been deprived of a fair opportunity to contest the claim.

2.It was not necessary or appropriate to rule on the actual meanings of the words complained of which were all plainly arguable. CPR 12.11(1) provides that where a claimant makes an application for default judgment, judgment shall be entered on the claim in the statement of case. Whilst, in some cases, there may need to be an assessment of the merits, it was not necessary here.

3. The appropriate award to compensate for the injury to reputation, and to feelings, and to ensure adequate vindication in respect of what were very serious allegations was £110,000. Publication had been assessed in the earlier judgment to be around 60,000 in this jurisdiction for the first, second and third publications. C, a Russian senator, had a substantial and valuable reputation here. He had owned a house here and was well known within the large Russian community. He was also prominent in the Jewish community. He was planning to relocate his family to London over the next 2 years. His divorce had been the subject of a highly publicised ruling by the Family Division in 2012.

3. Even though there were difficulties with the granting of an injunction against an individual  overseas in circumstances where she had decided not to engage with the process, it was appropriate here where publication had continued with no apparent attempt by D to stop it, there had been an assertion by D that what she said was true, and she had expressed her utmost respect for the English court.


Comment

A straightforward application of the law on damages to the facts. The award is high but the allegations were very serious and were never defended.


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Instructing Solicitors

Hamlins LLP for C; D did not appear and was not represented