Reference:  EWHC 2160 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Tugendhat J
Date of judgment: 19 Sep 2003
Summary: Defamation - Libel - Delay - Striking out - Abuse of process - Human Rights - Articles 6, 8 & 10 European Convention on Human Rights
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Jacob Dean (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Ryan Solicitors for the Defendant; the Claimant in person.
The Claimants’ son died in 1990. They made various alleagations of conspiracy and cover-up against the doctors who had treated their son. In November 1992 the doctors put a notice up in their surgery waiting room refuting the allegations. In November 1995 the Claimants issued libel proceedings over that notice. The claim suffered various delays and stays while the Claimants pursued other avenues of investigation into the circumstances of their son’s death. The action was subsequently discontinued against all but one doctor, who applied to strike it out as an abuse of process.
(1) Whether the claim be struck out as an abuse of process;
(2) If not an abuse, whether the claim should be struck out on the grounds of delay alone.
(1) The claim was not an abuse. The Claimants were genuinely interested in vindication and there were good reasons for the delay.
(2) Although the claim could not now be tried within a reasonable time, this did not necessitate striking out and, balancing the prejudice to the Claimants if they were not allowed to proceed with the prejudice caused to the remaining doctor Defendant by the delay, the claim would not be struck out.
This case was decided on extreme facts and should not be taken as an indication that delays of over 10 years will generally be tolerated. Subsequently A-G’s ref (No.2 of 2001) sub nom R v J  2 WLR 1 clarified the law on the consequences of breach of the ECHR Article 6 reasonable time guarantee.