Full case report
Crossley & Anor v Wallace & Anor
Reference  EWHC 2846 (QB)
Court High Court, QBD
Judge Openshaw J.
Date of Judgment 10 Oct 2008
Defamation – libel – abuse of process – no reasonable basis for bringing a claim – review of Master’s decision under CPR 3.4(2)(a) and (b) – ruling on meaning
Following a neighbour dispute in which the Environment Agency decided that a sewerage system installed by the claimants constituted a statutory nuisance affecting the defendants, the claimants sued the defendants and a local newspaper in relation to the latter’s coverage of the dispute. Eady J dismissed an appeal against the Master’s decision to strike out the claim against the newspaper on the basis that defences of privilege and/or fair comment were bound to succeed. The action brought in relation to the Ds comments to the newspaper was struck out for disclosing no reasonable grounds for bringing the claim and/or as an abuse of process. The Cs appealed.
Whether the Master had been wrong to exclude a meaning the words were incapable of bearing, or strike out the claim for disclosing no reasonable grounds for bringing it and/or whether it was an abuse of process.
The Master had been right to hold that there were no reasonable grounds for bringing the claim and that it constituted an abuse of process. It was right to limit the claim to the statements in the article attributable to the defendants, excluding editorial interpretation and captions. There was no evidence of malice on the part of the Ds, who had commented upon the outcome of the nuisance proceedings in the County Court. The action, which was commenced days after permission to appeal in the nuisance proceedings was turned down, was a flagrant attempt to relitigate matters already decided and an abuse. The Master had correctly excluded meanings that no reasonable person would have found the statements to bear.
This case, and the related proceedings against the local newspaper are a salutary reminder of the risks and pitfalls of representing oneself in expensive and specialist High Court litigation, as the Judge himself noted at the close of his judgment.
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