Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corporation v Wall Street Journal Europe (No.2)

Reference: [2003] EWHC 1776 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Eady J

Date of judgment: 21 Jul 2003

Summary: Defamation - Libel - justification - sufficient grounds for investigation - reasonable grounds to suspect - allegations of involvement in terrorist funding

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Appearances: Desmond Browne QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Eversheds

Facts

The defendant published an article reporting that the accounts of certain Saudi businesses, including the claimant bank, were being monitored by the Saudi central bank 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”. Initially the defendant’s principal defence was Reynolds qualified privilege. Shortly before the trial date it applied for permission to add a plea of justification relying on alleged associations of the bank, its executives or owners with persons suspected of terrorism. This was refused. The defendant then made a further application, seeking to justify meanings to the effect that the claimant had associated with others in such a way as to give rise to (a) sufficient grounds for investigating whether, or (b) reasonable grounds to suspect that it had facilitated terrorist funding.

Issue

Whether permission to amend should be granted

Held

Permission to amend refused in relation to the “sufficient grounds to investigate” meaning; the words were incapable of bearing a meaning less grave than reasonable grounds to suspect. Permission granted in relation to the proposed “reasonable grounds to suspect” meaning and 2 of the 9 categories of particulars in support. The other 7 categories of particulars were refused.

Comment

The formulation of the proposed defence had gone through 6 shifts since Eady J’s first judgment on the defendant’s initial application for permission to amend. A further change was made during the hearing. As a result, the judge observed, “.. it may turn out, for all I know, to be the most expensive application to amend ever made in a libel action.” The defendant had to pay all the costs.