Gentoo Group Ltd (formerly Sunderland Housing Co Ltd) v Hanratty
Reference:  EWHC 627 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 7 Apr 2008
Summary: Libel - Disapplication of limitation period - s.32A, Limitation Act 1980 - Discretion - Abuse of process
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Instructing Solicitors: Olswang for the Claimants; David Price Solicitors & Advocates for the Defendant
In 2006 Norwich Pharmacal applications were made against various persons including D to identify those responsible for the publication via a website and chat forum of material alleged to be defamatory of the Cs. Publication took place between summer 2004 and summer 2006. The application against D was withdrawn upon his denial of any involvement or knowledge of who was involved. In June 2007, the results of another Norwich Pharmacal order led Cs to believe that D had in fact been involved. On 12 July 2007 Cs issued libel proceedings against D. The last postings on the website took place on 12 July 2006. Any postings on the website prior to this date for which Cs wished to hold D responsible were prima facie time-barred. In order to proceed against D in respect of these earlier publications, Cs needed to obtain an order under s.32A Limitation Act 1980 disapplying the 1-year limitation period. D cross-applied to strike out the claim as an abuse of process.
(1) Would it be equitable in all the circumstances for the court to disapply the limitation period and allow the claim against D in respect of the earlier postings to proceed?
(2) Whether the claim was an abuse of process.
Finding for Cs:
(1) Those responsible for an alleged libel should not be allowed ‘to get away with it’. “…there is sometimes a perception in the context of defamation that apologies are given under economic pressure and are not to be taken as entirely genuine; likewise, even, that awards of damages against ‘the little man’ have been obtained through financial muscle and do not necessarily represent genuine vindication…It may, therefore, be…important for a claimant to bring as many of those responsible before the court, so that it cannot later be said that those who…’escape’ stand by their allegations…There is nothing either disreputable or disproportionate about seeking to…challenge anyone responsible…” (para. 15). The court should only shut out a case of responsibility for publication if it would be perverse for a jury to find it proved.
(2) The claim was not an abuse of process: the allegations were very serious and the claim was not bound to fail.