Reference:  EWHC 178 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Sharp J
Date of judgment: 6 Feb 2009
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Slander - Application to strike out - Abuse of process
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Appearances: David Sherborne (Respondent)
Instructing Solicitors: Olswang for the Applicant/Defendants; Schillings for the Respondent/Claimant
In 2006 C, a well-known businessman and entrepreneur, commenced proceedings for libel based on two emails sent by a spokesperson for the Second Defendant, R to a journalist at the Financial Times. The emails were written in response to C passing on certain information – in the form of a solicitors’ letter – to the same journalist who subsequently wrote an article in the FT which quoted from the emails.
The Ds applied to strike the case out on the basis that there was no realistic prospect of the action yielding any tangible or legitimate advantage such as to outweigh the disadvantages for the parties in terms of expense, and for the wider public in terms of the use of Court time and resources.
Whether the proceedings were an abuse of process.
The court was being asked to exercise a draconian power and should only do so in an exceptional case. Publication of a libel or indeed a slander to one person may be trivial in one context, but more serious than publication to many more in another. Much depends upon the nature of the allegation, and the identity of the person about whom and the person(s) to whom it is made;
C was an extremely well-known businessman and the allegations were capable of bearing a very serious meaning and were made to a journalist from the FT for him to pass on to the newspaper’s readers;
It could not be said that damages were likely to be minimal if C wins at trial. The allegations were serious and any award would take account of the effect on C of the unsuccessful plea of justification.
An illustration of some of the difficulties Defendants may encounter when seeking to strike out a case as a Jameel abuse of process. While every case is to be decided on its own facts, the power to strike out is, as Mrs Justice Sharp observed, a draconian power which should only be exercised in an exceptional case.