Howell v South London Church Fund and Southwark Diocesan Board of Finance

Reference: [2017] EWHC 2156

Court: High Court (Queen's Bench Division)

Judge: HHJ Moloney QC

Date of judgment: 27 Jul 2017

Summary: Application for pre-action disclosure and interim injunction in libel claim

Appearances: Aidan Eardley (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Winckworth Sherwood LLP

Facts

The Defendant granted the Claimant a shorthold tenancy on one of its properties on terms that prevented subletting. The Claimant rented out rooms in the property, advertising them on the website Holiday Lettings (part of the TripAdvisor group) and other websites. He contended that the Defendant knew all along that this was his intention.

The Claimant fell into arrears and the Defendant commenced possession proceedings. The Defendant also emailed TripAdvisor asserting that the Claimant did not have authority to rent out its rooms and asking for the listing to be removed from the Holiday Lettings website, which TripAdvisor did. A letter from the Defendant’s solicitors to the Claimant indicated  that the Defendant had contacted other letting websites for the same purpose.

The Claimant issued defamation proceedings in respect of the email to TripAdvisor, and applied for disclosure of the communications with the other websites and for an interim injunction.

Issue

Whether to grant pre-action disclosure; whether to grant an interim libel injunction.

Held

The disclosure application fell to be treated as an application for pre-action disclosure under CPR 31.16(3). Given that the Defendant had admitted communicating to a defined class (website letting agencies) the same proposition (that the property must be removed from the website) for the same reason (alleged lack of authority to sub-let), the application did not amount to prohibited “fishing” but fell within the limited range of situations where such disclosure in a libel action should be permitted.

The injunction application was refused on the basis of the rule in Bonnard v Perryman: the Defendant had indicated an intention to rely on defences of qualified privilege and truth, which were plainly well arguable.