Greenstein v Campaign against Antisemitism

Reference: [2019] EWHC 281 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division, Media and Communications List

Judge: Nicklin J

Date of judgment: 15 Feb 2019

Summary: Defamation - Meaning - Expressions of Opinion or Statements of Fact - Preliminary Issue Trial - Antisemitism allegations

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Appearances: Adam Speker (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: The Claimant in person; RPC for the Defendant

Facts

The Claimant, an individual who describes himself as ‘a well-known political activist with a focus on issue related to anti-racism, anti-fascism and Palestine‘ sued the Campaign against Antisemitism (‘CAA’) for libel, misuse of private information and breach of statutory duty under the Data Protection Act, in respect of five articles published on the CAA’s website on 26 February 2017, 30 July 2017, 25 September 2017, 3 January 2018 and 24 January 2018.

The primary accusation was that the Claimant was a notorious anti-Semite.

The matter went to a trial of preliminary issues to determine the correct meaning of the words complained of and whether the words were statements of fact or expressions of opinion. It was not in dispute that the imputation of anti-Semitism was defamatory at common law.

Issue

  1. What meanings the words complained of bore in respect of the first article and whether those meanings were statements of fact or expressions of opinion;
  2. What meaning the words complained of bore in respect of the second article and whether the meaning was a statement of fact or an expression of opinion;
  3. What meaning the words complained of bore in respect of the third article and whether the meaning was a statement of fact or an expression of opinion;
  4. What meaning the words complained of bore in respect of the fourth article and whether the meaning was a statement of fact or an expression of opinion;
  5. What meaning the words complained of bore in respect of the fifth article and whether the meaning was a statement of fact or an expression of opinion.

Held

  1. The first article bore four meanings: (a) that the Claimant was anti-Semitic; (b) that he had lied when he claimed in The Guardian that the International Definition of Anti-Semitism prevents criticism of Israel; (c) that he had lied to the Charity Commission when he claimed that the CAA was a right-wing political Zionist organisation that is not concerned with fascist groups who were anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers; and (d) had committed several criminal offences including offences of dishonesty, vandalism and drug possession. The ordinary, reasonable reader of the first article could not fail to understand that the meaning at (a) was an expression of opinion: British Chiropractic Association v Singh [2011] 1 WLR 133 considered. The meanings at (b) and (c) were also expressions of opinion. The meaning at (d) was always accepted to be a statement of fact.
  2. The second article bore the meaning at 1(a) above which was also held to be an expression of opinion.
  3. Whilst there were fewer facts set out, the third, fourth and fifth articles, which also bore the meaning at a(a) above, would also have been understood to be an expression of opinion.

Comment

A good example of the importance of context.

An accusation of anti-Semitism can be a statement of fact or an expression of opinion depending upon the context, as can an accusation of dishonesty. Here, the Judge considered that the words in their context were expressions of opinion.

The Court of Appeal (Asplin J) refused permission to appeal on paper from this decision in April 2019.