Reference:  EWHC 2667 (QB)
Judge: Tugendhat J
Date of judgment: 21 Oct 2011
Summary: Slander - abuse of process - summary disposal
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Instructing Solicitors: Law Society Legal Dept
D, the Chief Executive of the Law Society made the verbal comment to another contributor to a consumer affairs radio programme as they left the studio that the Claimant was a criminal. The second contributor reported the conversation on his blog, adding his response that the police did not think C was a criminal. C sued on the words spoken outside the studio but not on the republication online. C did not sue the other contributor. C, who had maintained the ‘Solicitors from hell’ website, had previously stated he was bankrupt. In his defence D took issue with the accuracy of the pleaded version of the conversation which omitted that the criminality was suggested to refer to C’s requests for payments to remove adverse comment about lawyers from his website. D pleaded justification to that meaning. The criminality was pleaded to be blackmail and harassment. Several lawyers had brought claims against statements published on the Solicitors from hell website. C issued an application for summary disposal on the basis that no defence had a reasonable prospect of success. D cross-applied to have the claim struck out as an abuse of process under CPR 3.4(2)(b).
Whether the defence of justication had no reasonable prospect of succeeding and whether the claim was an abuse of process.
Acceding to D’s application to strike out the claim:
1. C’s impecuniosity did not preclude him from bringing proceedings but the court could have regard to his inabiliy to meet any costs orders when carrying out any balancing exercise;
2. The conflict of evidence as to the precise words which D had used outside the studio prevented the claim from being suitable for summary disposal;
3. Under s. 8(4)(d) of the Defamation Act 1996 the seriousness of the alleged wrong militated against summary disposal but this was offset by the nature of the publication to just one person, and the fact that the context of the blog was not unfavourable to C;
4. There was no evidence of real and substantial damage to reputation and it was not just (with regard to the overriding objective) for the claim to proceed as it was an abuse of process, and a disporportionate use of the parties’ and court’s resouces.
A textbook application of the post-2005 abuse of process principle to a claim for slander where there was just one publishee. It is of interest that an alleged slander of some seriousness may be struck out as an abuse of process, as the seriousness of the allegation was offset by the limited nature of publication to one person. Where serious allegations are made this will tend to count against a claim being an abuse of process.