Reference:  EWHC 819 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 12 Apr 2006
Summary: Defamation - Responsibility for publication - Inducing breach of contract - Elements of cause of action - Summary judgment
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Instructing Solicitors: Stock Frasier Cukier for the Claimant; Mishcon de Reya for the Defendant
C’s first novel, Empress Bianca, was published in June 2005. In July 2005 the Sunday Telegraph published an article stating that D’s friends were angry about the book, which they felt was based on her and which portrayed her as a serial murderer. D subsequently complained to C’s publishers that the book defamed her. The publishers apologised to D and recalled and pulped all copies of the book. The Independent on Sunday then published an article about the book and D’s complaint. C brought libel proceedings against D on the basis that this article was published by D or on her behalf, and that it alleged that she had stolen D’s life for the book, that the book was a thinly disguised defamatory version of D’s life and that she had accused D of murder. C also claimed that D’s complaint to her publishers was an unlawful inducement to breach of their contract with her. D applied to strike out the claims, or alternatively to be granted summary judgment.
(1) Whether there was any substance to the claim that D was responsible, directly or indirectly, for the publication of the Independent on Sunday article complained of;
(2) Whether C’s pleading disclosed a cause of action for inducement of breach of contract.
Granting D summary judgment in respect of both causes of action: (1) There was no evidential basis to support C’s case that D was responsible for publication of the article, and the inherent probabilities pointed against D’s involvement. (2) The pleading failed to set out a foundation for any of the following vital ingredients of the cause of action of inducing breach of contract: (a) that there was any direct inducement; (b) that there was any indirect inducement through unlawful means; and (c) that there was any intention to cause economic harm to C.
Although Eady J granted summary judgment in respect of the libel claim on the responsibility for publication aspect, he went on to say that he would have refused to do so on the positive defences put forward. On a summary judgment application, facts must be assumed in the respondent’s favour, such that D would have been held to have been responsible for publication. She would therefore have been lying in denying publication, which could be relevant to malice; a privilege or comment defence would therefore not succeed at this stage. The inference sought to be defended as comment was arguably one of a verifiable fact and should therefore be the subject of a justification defence, which could not be said to be so strong as to make a jury finding against it perverse.