Reference:  EWHC 2726 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Gray J
Date of judgment: 12 Dec 2002
Summary: Defamation - Libel - application to amend Defence to plead justification after judgment entered
Appearances: Desmond Browne CBE KC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)
Instructing Solicitors: Olswang for the Claimant; Reynolds Porter Chamberlain for the Defendants
The Claimant sued on two Times articles alleging that he was a mafia boss linked to money-laundering whose company, Nordex, was associated with Russian criminal activity and the smuggling of nuclear weapons. The Defendants did not justify but pleaded Reynolds qualified privilege. That defence failed, both in April 2001 and (after a successful appeal) when the case was remitted to Gray J for reconsideration in November 2002. The Defendants had come into possession of information (particularly a report prepared by the Italian public prosecutor’s office) which for the first time enabled them to advance a defence of justification, and now sought to justify the meanings that the Claimant had been involved, through companies owned or controlled by him, in the criminal laundering of money, or that by his conduct he had given reasonable cause to suspect him of criminal money laundering.
Whether the Defendants should be given permission to amend their Defence to plead justification after judgment in the action.
The application was dismissed. A strong case would be required before an application at such a late stage could succeed, and such material as was credible fell well short of enabling the Times to make good their case that the Claimant had been guilty of criminal money laundering. Nor was there sufficient admissible and apparently credible material to enable the Defendants to make good their secondary case that there were reasonable grounds to suspect the Claimant of such behaviour.
The lateness of this application makes it highly unusual. The application was heard after judgment, which had first been given for the Claimant in April 2001 and then (following a successful appeal) reconsidered and given for the Claimant again in November 2002. However, the evidence which enabled the Defendants to make the application could not have been obtained earlier than it was.