Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp v Wall Street Journal Europe
Reference:  EWHC 1358 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 12 Jun 2003
Summary: Defamation - Libel - amendment - justification - allegations of association with institutions or persons suspected of terrorism - whether such allegations breach established principles of law
Desmond Browne QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Eversheds
The defendant published an article reporting that the accounts of a number of Saudi businesses, including those of the claimant bank, were being monitored by the Saudi central bank, SAMA, at the request of US law-enforcement agencies “in a bid to prevent them being used wittingly or unwittingly for the funneling of funds to terrorist organisations”. In response to the bank’s claim for libel the defendant’s principal defence was Reynolds qualified privilege. Shortly before the trial date the defendant applied for permission to amend to add a plea of justification principally directed at justifying a meaning that the bank “and/or its executives and/or members of the family had in the past had associations with institutions or persons suspected of or with a reputation for links to terrorism or potential terrorist ties”.
Whether permission to amend should be granted.
Permission to amend refused. In the light of well-known principles it was clear that the three Lucas-Box meanings advanced were as they stood unacceptable. The first meaning involved an accusation of guilt by mere association. The second meaning sought to rely on the mere (alleged) fact that the bank was the subject of “US law enforcement interest”, which was not defamatory and could not afford a defence in itself. The third meaning relied on the alleged likelihood that such “interest” had been communicated to SAMA; but the fact of such communication was neither here nor there. The particulars of justification also fell foul of well-established principles in a number of other respects.
This was the first of a series of substantial applications in this case. A further application for permission to amend in a different fashion was partially successful.