Mahmudov & Mahmudova v Goni Sanzberro & ors

Reference: [2021] EWHC 3433 (QB)

Court: High Court, Queen’s Bench Division, Media & Communications List

Judge: Collins Rice J

Date of judgment: 17 Dec 2021

Summary: Libel – Jurisdiction – Brussels Recast Regulation – Centre of Interests

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Appearances: Justin Rushbrooke QC - Leading Counsel (Claimant)  Julian Santos (Claimant)  Greg Callus (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Discreet Law for Cs; RPC for Ds

Facts

The Claimants are the son and daughter of Eldar Mahmudov, former head of national security in Azerbaijan.  The first Defendant is a journalist. The second to sixth Defendants are publishers domiciled in Spain, all subsidiaries of a single holding company, and owners of Spanish, Galician and Catalan language newspapers and websites.  All Ds published an article about Cs written by D1 on 31 May 2020.

The Claimants issued a claim form in respect of online publication on 31 December 2020, which was served on all Ds in late June 2021. Ds issued a CPR Part 11 challenge on the basis that (1) the High Court had no jurisdiction to hear the claim; (2) further and alternatively, if the High Court had jurisdiction, it was limited to local damages and could not include non-pecuniary relief relating to internet publication, following the rule in Bolagsupplysningen because this was not the Cs’ ‘centre of interests’.

Issue

(1) Under Article 7(2) Brussels Recast Regulation, where a court would have jurisdiction in the ‘place the harmful event occurred’:

(i) was a claimant’s ‘centre of interests’ automatically such a ‘place’ irrespective of whether a tort was committed there? or;

(ii) did a claimant first have to show that the court had Article 7(2) jurisdiction based on the commission of a tort within the ‘place’, with ‘centre of interests’ going only to the scope of remedies available from that court?

(2) If the answer to Issue (1) was “(ii)”, in respect of each of the Cs and each of the Ds, was there a ‘good arguable case’ that the tort of libel had been committed in England & Wales?

(3) Was England & Wales the ‘centre of interests’ of either/both of the Cs

Held

(1) Answer (ii). The CJEU decision in eDate had introduced the ‘centre of interests’ where the claim involved ‘personality rights’ arising out of publication on the internet. It extended the scope of remedies (injunctive relief, global damages) available in any place where jurisdiction subsisted because a tort had been committed there if that place was also the claimant’s ‘centre of interests’. It did not, however, create a freestanding basis of jurisdiction wherever a claimants ‘centre of interests’ was, even if there had not been a tort committed there. Therefore, to determine whether the court had jurisdiction, it had to first consider whether there had been a tort committed (to the standard of a good arguable case) in England & Wales.

(2) No – neither of the Cs had made out a ‘good arguable case’ that an actionable tort of libel had been committed against them in England & Wales.

(3) Given the Judge’s decision on Issues (1) and (2) this issue did not need to be resolved.

Comment

Almost certainly the last of the jurisdiction cases arising out of the Brussels Recast Regulation or the Lugano Convention. Neither instrument applies to new claims issued from 1 January 2021, and so jurisdiction in media cases is now governed exclusively by domestic law (service out under CPR Part 6) and, where applicable, s.9 of the Defamation Act 2013.