Hunter v Cooper & ors

Reference: [2020] EWHC 1105 (QB)

Court: High Court (Queen's Bench Division)

Judge: Senior Master Fontaine

Date of judgment: 7 May 2020

Summary: Defamation – Libel – Slander – Limitation – Strike-Out – Summary Judgment – Equality Act 2010 – contract – tort – County Court – transfer – Abuse of Process

Download: Download this judgment

Appearances: Greg Callus (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Manleys Solicitors

Facts

A proposed-candidate for the 2018 Local Government elections brought a claim against his local party association and six of its members over the circumstances that surrounded his no longer being the candidate by the time of the election. The claims were brought in contract, tort, breaches of the Equality Act 2010, and additional claims against the First Defendant in libel and slander. All of the claims were brought in the High Court.

Issue

Non-defamation claims

  • Should the Court declare it had no jurisdiction over the Equality Act 2010 claim as being within the exclusive jurisdiction of the County Court, and would not exercise its jurisdiction in respect of the other non-defamation claims?
  • Pursuant to s.40 County Court Act 1981, should the remaining non-defamation claims be (a) struck-out for having been brought in the wrong Court when the claimant knew (or ought to have known) that they were brought in the wrong venue; or (b) transferred to the County Court?
  • Should the claims as against the Fourth and Seventh Defendants be struck-out?

Defamation claims

  • Did the pleading deficiencies mean that the defamation claims should be struck-out entirely, and if so, should the Claimant be given the opportunity to re-plead?
  • Should the First Defendant be granted summary judgment on the two libel claims pursuant to
  • s.4A Limitation Act 1980?
  • Should the pleas of serious harm be struck-out?
  • Should the claim be struck-out as an abuse of process?
  • If not struck-out, should the defamation claims be transferred to the County Court?

Held

  • The non-defamation claims should be struck-out under s.40(1) County Court Act 1981. The claimant was a qualified barrister working at a leading law firm, and had enjoyed the assistance of specialist lawyers. He should have known that the non-defamation claims were being brought in the wrong court, and the Court would exercise its discretion to strike-out, rather than transfer, the non-defamation claims.
  • Yes, the claims against the Fourth and Seventh Defendants should be struck-out.
  • Yes – the pleading deficiencies merited strike-out, and the Claimant should not be permitted to re-plead, even if he were able to do so.
  • Yes – the limitation defence was made out, and there had been no application under s.32A Limitation Act 1980 to extend time.
  • Yes – the pleading of serious harm should be struck-out.
  • Yes – the claims should be struck-out.
  • The question of transfer did not arise.

Comment

A case very much decided on its facts, but emphasising the importance of precise pleading and the limits on the indulgence granted by the Court to re-plead following strike-out. Also a rare instance of the Court exercising discretion under s.40 County Courts Act 1981 to strike-out claims wrongly brought in the High Court, rather than transferring them to the County Court. The alternative argument recorded at [74] may be of interest, namely that if the other claims were being transferred there, the High Court had the power under s.40 to transfer defamation claims to the County Court, even without the consent of the parties (which was not in issue here) and even though statute barred them being issued in the County Court without such consent.