Dismissing the application:
On issues (1) & (2):
(a) There was no principle precluding individuals from suing in cases where what was impugned was their conduct in the carriage of the business of a governmental body. The House of Lords in Derbyshire was clearly contemplating that the individual’s right to sue was subject to no limitation other than the requirement that the words should refer to, and be defamatory, of that individual. Derbyshire followed; R (on the application of Comninos) v Bedford Borough Council considered.
(b) If there were such a limitation as the Defendants had contended for, the court might have to consider whether the words complained of were so closely connected to the management of the governmental body’s affairs that, as a matter of principle, they should not be permitted to sue in defamation. However, although in the present case the meanings complained of did not relate to aspects of the Claimants’ reputations which were exclusively private, it was at least arguable that any suggestion of financial impropriety could be said to undermine an individual’s personal integrity, and to be a serious interference with his private life. Karako v Hungary considered.
(c) It was further to be noted that since the First Defendant as a public authority had no rights under Art. 10 ECHR, that part of Lord Keith’s reasoning in Derbyshire which reflected the high importance attached to freedom of expression did not apply directly to the claim against it.
(d) Since the court should not strike out a claim save in circumstances where it was clearly and obviously right to do so, and where the applicable law was itself clear, it was not appropriate to strike out the claim on the basis that it was an attempt to circumvent the Derbyshire principle.
(e) Accordingly, the court did not need to consider whether the school was in fact a governmental body within the rule in Derbyshire.
On issues (3) & (4):
(a) The court could not dismiss as incapable of belief the evidence of the claimants as to their purpose in bringing the proceedings. Nor was it possible to conclude on the basis of the correspondence between the parties that the action had been brought for a collateral purpose.
(b) Since the words complained of were in electronic form it could be said that there was a real risk of republication in the future both within the Department for Education and within Lambeth. Even if the damage suffered thus far had been small, the main point of defamation proceedings was vindication, which included preventing or reducing the risk of future publications of the libels. Unlike in Jameel, there was a real prospect of vindication since the defence included a plea of justification.(c) It was therefore not possible to conclude that there was no real or substantial tort, or that the pursuit of the action was a disproportionate exercise, or an abuse of process of the court.