Reference:  EWHC 293 (QB)
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 13 Feb 2013
Summary: Libel - assessment of damages
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Desmond Browne CBE QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)
Jonathan Barnes (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: DLA Piper LLP
The First Defendant is the publisher and editor in chief of the Ethiopian Review, an Internet news site. The Second Defendant, a Florida company, shares the mailing address for the Ethiopian Review and receives financial contributions for its maintenance. They published an online article alleging that the Claimant had been trafficking 45,000 Ethiopian women a month, sold into salvery and abused in various ways. The Claimant is in fact an international businessman, widely known among people in England in a business and banking context, and also among the Ethiopian community here. He has a family home here and is a frequent visitor. His children have been educated here. The Court gave the Claimant permission to serve English libel proceedings on the Defendants in the United States, where they are resident and domiciled. Although they were served with the proceedings, the Defendants took no part in them. The Claimant obtained judgment in default of acknowledgment of service. The Court directed an assessment of damages.
What sum in libel damages should be awarded in the Claimant’s favour.
The Claimant had sued over publication to a wide readership in this jurisdiction. This was not a case of so-called “libel tourism”, and the Claimant’s connections with this jurisdiction were very strong. The Second Defendant had properly been joined as a party, since the evidence established it had participated in the posting on the Internet of the material complained of. The Defendants’ allegations were truly shocking and obviously seriously defamatory. It was indeed difficult to imagine a more serious or gross allegation. The allegations were likely to have had a readership in this jurisdiction measured in the thousands. The Claimant was understandably angry, distressed, upset and embarrassed by the allegations, and his feelings were further aggravated by the Defendants’ conduct. For example, they had made no attempt to verify the facts, they had failed to contact the Claimant or anyone on his behalf for comment, and they had reacted dismissively to his complaint. The Defendants had also published further offensive and upsetting material since the issue of proceedings. They had also falsely claimed that they had challenged the Court’s jurisdiction in this case, and in a previous case which the Claimant brought against the First Defendant (Al Amoudi v Kifle  EWHC 2037). All of that bore out the Claimant’s submission that the First Defendant appears to bear malice towards him.
It is not relevant to take into account the likelihood of recovering any award, even if the Claimant will in fact recover nothing. The Claimant’s true objective is to obtain an award with a view to demonstrating the falsity of the libel and having a proportionate and reasonable sum as an outward and visible sign that he is entitled to have his reputation vindicated. The appropriate figure in this case was £180,000.
This judgment represents the second award that Sheikh Al Amoudi has achieved against the Ethiopian Review and its proprietor, Mr Elias Kifle. In his previous case in 2011 the Sheikh was awarded £175,000 in general damages. It is notable that where a claimant has strong connections with this jurisdiction then regardless of any difficulty there may be executing a judgment against a foreign defendant, an English court will not hesitate to award very substantial damages where they are justified, to fulfil the recognised purpose of libel damages, that is to provide compensation for hurt feelings and distress, to serve as a sign of vindication and to compensate for any actual injury to reputation. This is the highest award of general damages for libel made since 2002. The Court also ordered that costs would be assessed on the indemnity basis.