Merelie v Newcastle Primary Health Care Trust & Others
Reference:  EWHC 2554 (QB); The Times, 1 December 2004
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 11 Nov 2004
Summary: Defamation - Summary Judgment - Strike Out - Pleading Requirements in Slander cases - Republication - Protection from Harassment Act 1997 - Malicious Falsehood - Human Rights Act 1998 - CPR Part 24 - CPR Part 3.4(2)
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Adam Wolanski QC (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Eversheds
The Claimant was employed by the First Defendant for 25 years as a dentist. In 2000 a variety of allegations were made about her conduct by the Sixth to Thirteenth Defendants, all colleagues also employed by the First Defendant. In May 2001 she was dismissed on the grounds that she had harassed staff. In November 2002 she wrote to the Second Defendant, who was the First Defendant’s chief executive, complaining that malicious allegations had been made against her by the Sixth to Thirteenth Defendants. He responded by asserting that he had no reason to believe the allegations were untrue, and sent a copy of that letter to the chief executive of the local Strategic Health Authority. The Claimant brought proceedings against the Second Defendant and 11 others for libel, malicious falsehood, harassment and under the Human Rights Act 1998.
Whether summary judgment should be entered for the Defendants (except on the claim for libel against the Second Defendant) and/or the claim should be struck out.
The claims for malicious falsehood against all defendants and for libel against the Third to Thirteenth Defendants were struck out as too speculative and imprecise. The claim under the Human Rights Act 1998 was struck out on the grounds that none of the conduct relied upon was sufficiently severe to engage Article 3, and no allegation was made of conduct which impinged upon the Claimant’s private or family life or correspondence. The claim under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 against the Third to Fifth Defendants was also struck out. The harassment claims against the Sixth to Thirteenth Defendants, by contrast, were not struck out because the conduct complained of, namely a concerted campaign to damage the Claimant by repeatedly lodging false grievances, could arguably constitute harassment.
The case shows how the Protection from Harassment Act might be relied upon where the more obvious cause of action (defamation) is unavailable for reasons of limitation. In examining the 1997 Act, the judge drew a distinction between those individuals who were alleged by the Claimant to have made false complaints and those who were alleged to have failed in their duty to investigate those complaints. Making false complaints may amount to an abuse of legal procedures, which, following the decision of the Divisional Court in Baron v CPS (unreported DC, 13 June 2000), could constitute harassment. A failure to investigate could not.