Reference:  EWHC 3057 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Sharp J
Date of judgment: 24 Nov 2010
Defamation - Meaning - Summary judgment - Malice - Civil restraint order
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Adam Wolanski QC (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: BBC Litigation Department; the Claimant in person
The Claimant worked for five months in a junior administrative role for the BBC. Complaints were made by colleagues that he was difficult to work with and about the quality of his work. After a meeting convened under the BBC’s capability procedure he was dismissed. He brought three sets of proceedings for libel against the BBC in respect of comments made by various former colleagues in a feedback schedule which was produced at the capability meeting. The BBC applied for a ruling that the words complained of were incapable of bearing a defamatory meaning, for summary judgment and for an extended civil restraint order against the Claimant.
(1) Whether the words were capable of bearing any meaning defamatory of the Claimant;
(2) Whether the Claimant’s case on malice had a realistic prospect of success;
(3) Whether a civil restraint order should be made.
Granting summary judgment but declining to make a civil restraint order:
(1) The words complained of were not capable of bearing any meaning defamatory of the Claimant. They did not impute to the Claimant some quality which would be detrimental, or the absence of some quality which is essential, to the successful carrying on of his office, profession or trade. Further, the complaint did not surmount the threshold of seriousness.
(2) The words were plainly protected by qualified privilege, and the case on malice was bound to fail.
(3) While the current claims were to be described as totally without merit, the Claimant had not demonstrated the necessary hallmark of persistent vexatiousness such as to trigger the court’s power to make a civil restraint order.
The judge applied the seriousness threshold for defamation claims as considered by Tugendhat J in Thornton v Telegraph Media Group (No 2): “It might be considered the threshold of seriousness is implicit in the approach of the ordinary reasonable and sensible man; alternatively, if the statements…are defamatory of the Claimant, it is to such a minor degree that the threshold of seriousness which I agree with Tugendhat J it is necessary to surmount in accordance with the approach of the Court of Appeal in Jameel v Dow Jones, is not surmounted in this case”.