1 May 2007
Slave libel claim dismissed
Proceedings over book dismissed following failure to pay security for costs
Libel proceedings over a book that recounted an account of slavery at the hands of a former Sudanese diplomat and his wife were dismissed at the High Court today following the failure by the Claimants to gain an extension of time to pay a court-ordered security of £375,000.
Abdel Mahmoud Al-Koronky and his wife Hanan Ibrahim Mohammed had brought proceedings over a book, Slave, published by Time-Life Entertainment. The book, co-written by the second Defendant, Damien Lewis, was an autobiographical account by Mende Nazer of her original abduction as a young girl from her home town in the Nuba mountains and alleged that she had later been sold into slavery and later ended up working for the Claimants in their home in London.
In July 2005, Mr Justice Eady ordered the Claimants, who had returned to the Sudan, to provide security for the Defendants' costs in the sum of £375,000. An appeal by the Claimants against this order was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in July 2006. Following a failed attempt to appeal to the House of Lords, the security was required to be paid by 29 December 2006.
The Claimants told the Court that they had managed to raise the money with the help of the Sudanese Bar Association through a number of loans from organisations which included a Sudanese Trade Union body and a Sudanese Legal Aid organisation. However, the money had not been received by their solicitors until some 10 days after the payment was due.
Rejecting the application for an extension of time to pay the money into court, Mr Justice Eady found that there was a complete lack of documentation establishing the provenance of the money, which had been raised and transferred in cash. An opinion obtained by the Defendants suggested that circumstances in which the money had been raised and the lack of documentation gave rise to concerns under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
The judge criticised the Claimants for their continuing lack of candour in their failure to inform the House of Lords about the fund-raising drive to raise the security which was taking place while their appeal from the Court of Appeal decision was pending.
Dismissing the Claimants' claim and entering judgment for the Defendants, the Judge said:
"I come to this conclusion with genuine regret, because it would plainly be more satisfactory if these grave issues could be resolved on the merits, but I cannot force the Defendants to go on incurring these huge costs without any prospect of recover. It would mean that there would be complete inequality of arms, in the sense that the Claimants would be effectively immune from any cost disciplines imposed on parties to litigation by the CPR."
The Claimants were refused permission to appeal and were ordered to pay £100,000 on account of the costs of the action.