Atlantis World Group of Companies NV & Another v Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso SpA
Reference:  EWHC 1323 (QB);  EMLR 15
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Sir Charles Gray (Sitting as a Judge of the High Court)
Date of judgment: 16 May 2008
Summary: Libel - foreign magazine - English publication - small circulation - foreign claimant - corporate claims - proof of reputation - reference - "Jameel" abuse of process
Instructing Solicitors: Davenport Lyons for the Claimant
C1 & C2 sued for alleged libel published by D in England in an Italian magazine, L’Espresso, of which some 219 copies were published in the UK. C1 was a Dutch Antilles company with a base in Rome whose only business at the time of publication was collecting gaming taxes in Italy. C2 was a related English company, formed to take over the Italian tax collecting business, but carrying on no trade. C1 & C2 complained of meanings that they were controlled, or reasonably suspected of being controlled by the mafia, or lesser meanings involving links to the mafia. C2 alleged the publication had caused actual damage. D disputed the Cs’ right to sue, reference, meaning and damage and alleged that the claims were an abuse of process. These questions were all determined at the trial of the action.
(1) Had C1 made out the elements of a valid claim? (2) Had C2 made out the necessary elements? (3) Was C2’s claim to have suffered actual damage made out? (4) Was either claim an abuse of process?
(1) C1’s claim failed because although the words referred to it, and bore defamatory meanings which linked it with the mafia, C1 had not shown it had any trading or business reputation in this jurisdiction. (2) C2’s claim failed because it was dormant, lacking any proven reputation, and not referred to in the article. (3) C2’s actual damage claim was misconceived. (4) The claims would also have been struck out as an abuse. They had all the hallmarks of forum-shopping, and given the very limited publication here, any damages would have been minimal: the game would not have been worth the candle. (5) Although abuse of process is more commonly a ground for striking out a claim before trial, it was open to the court to strike out a claim for abuse at the trial of the action.
A warning to foreign companies thinking of bringing claims here over minimal publication of foreign language media: proof that they have some reputation that can be damaged is essential. The Judge also accepted that abuse of process of the Jameel variety could be established at trial, and would have dismissed the claims on that ground had he found them otherwise sustainable. The judgment contains a useful succinct summary of the relevant principles.