Full case report

Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe SAS v Asda Stores Ltd

Reference [2009] EWHC 781 (QB); [2009] FSR 687
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Sir Charles Gray

Date of Judgment 8 Apr 2009


Summary

Malicious Falsehood – Meaning – Preliminary Issue – CPR Part 3.1(2)(i)


Facts

The Claimant is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of the artificial sweetener aspartame. The Defendant owns and operate supermarket chain ASDA. ASDA manufactures certain food and drink products under its own brand. In May 2007, ASDA announced a “No Nasties” marketing campaign in which it vowed to remove artificial colours and flavours from its own-brand food and soft drinks. One particular substance targeted in the Campaign for removal from its own-brand food and drink was aspartame. The Claimant brought malicious falsehood proceedings in connection with the campaign complaining that it suggested that aspartame was harmful or unhealthy, or potentially harmful or unhealthy. ASDA denied this meaning, contending that the product packaging meant only that there was no aspartame in the product. The Claimant applied for a preliminary issue on meaning.


Issue

Whether a preliminary issue on meaning should be ordered.


Held

Granting the application and ordering the preliminary issue sought:

(1) The potential costs saving by ruling on meaning as a preliminary issue were substantial. If the ruling went against the Claimant then that would be an end of the case, but even if it did not end the case it would define the parameters of the issue of falsity the cost savings of which could potentially be very substantial;

(2) The fact that CPR Part 53 did not apply to malicious falsehood claims was not a bar to the Court ordering that meaning be tried as a preliminary issue.


Comment

Although the Judge thought it was not necessary to resolve the issue in determining the question of whether there should be a preliminary issue as to meaning, there is discussion of the question whether the “single-meaning” rule in defamation has any application to malicious falsehood cases: see Vodafone v Orange [1997] FSR 34.


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Instructing Solicitors

CMS Cameron McKenna LLP for the Claimant; Addleshaw Goddard LLP for the Defendant