Reference:  EWHC 976 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division, High Court (Cardiff DR)
Judge: HHJ Chambers QC (sitting as a Judge of the High Court)
Date of judgment: 20 Apr 2012
Summary: Libel - meaning - strike out - Jameel - Thornton
Download: Download this judgment
Godwin Busuttil (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Morgan LaRoche for C, PSB Law LLP for D.
C was the owner and director of a number of companies offering management consultancy and contract services to blue chip companies. He was also the chairman of a group of residents who opposed the building of biomass power stations. The group was party to two local planning inquiries in relation to the power stations. D was the principal of the companies that wished to build the power stations. D published an anonymous document to a number of individuals including words alleged to be defamatory of C relating to the dissolution of 15 companies of which C had been director. The extent of publication was unclear: D averred the document had been sent to no more than six people and that C had no real prospect of proving any wider publication. C’s case was that the words meant that C, a businessman, lacked any competence whatsoever in running his companies. D contended that the action, applying the principles in Jameel, was an abuse of process, that insofar as they criticised C they were not serious enough to be defamatory, and that insofar as they were defamatory of him they were honest comment. D applied to strike the claim out as an abuse of process.
What was the meaning of the words complained of?
Was the meaning of the words sufficiently serious to be defamatory of C (Thornton v Telegraph Media Group)?
If the words were defamatory, should be case be struck out as an abuse of process because “the game was not worth the candle” (Jameel v Dow Jones)?
Dismissing the application and holding that:
A statement that someone was unable to run his companies could only be taken as a statement that the person in question was incompetent in running those companies.
The words complained of were intended to convey that C had manifested deficiencies that cast doubt on his ability to perform his role of protest leader.
The words were defamatory of C in relation to two aspects of C’s public activities – his business reputation and his reputation as leader of a protest group – and were sufficiently serious to cross the threshold of seriousness identified in Thornton.
The claim would not be struck out as an abuse of process, principally because D had refused to acknowledge his authorship of the words complained of until he served his Defence and had furnished no explanation of his previous denial of authorship. With no explanation of or apology for the early denial of authorship, the Jameel application could not succeed.
The ruling on D’s Jameel application focuses on what the judge termed D’s “obduracy”. This may be thought to sit uncomfortably with the application of the Jameel test in other authorities where the court has been concerned less with the conduct of the defendant and more with the proportionality of the proceedings in all the circumstances of the case.