Full case report

Sanders v Percy & Ministry of Justice

Reference [2009] EWHC 1870 (QB)
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge HHJ Moloney QC (sitting as a Judge of the High Court)

Date of Judgment 30 Jul 2009


Summary

Slander – Strike out – Slander actionable per se – Harrassment – Abuse of process – Jameel abuse


Facts

The Claimant brought proceedings against a Court Officer of a County Court and against the Ministry of Justice for slander, harrassment and breach of confidence. The alleged slander arose out of a telephone conversation between the Court Officer and the Claimant’s solicitor in unrelated proceedings. There were a number of allegations complained of including that the Claimant was a vexatious litigant; that he worked as an Ali G impersonator but did not look like Ali G; that he was a chancer; that he drove a car without a tax disc and that he should be reported for benefit fraud. The harrassment claim related to 6 incidents over a period of 3 years.


Issue

(1) Whether the slander claims (excluding the benefit fraud allegation) should be struck out as not being actionable per se;

(2) Whether the Ali G allegation amounted to words disparaging the Claimant in his trade;

(3) Whether any surviving allegations should be struck out on the principles set out in Jameel v Dow Jones;

(4) Whether the harrassment allegations were actionable or capable of amounting to a course of conduct.


Held

Striking out the claim for slander (except for the benefit fraud allegations) and breach of confidence:
(1) The other allegations were not actionable per se;
(2) The Ali G allegation was capable of injuring the Claimant in relation to his trade but it would be struck out on Jameel grounds because it was not a serious allegation and there was no reason to suppose the Claimant’s solicitor would be hiring or recommending Ali G impersonators;
(3) The benefit fraud allegations would not be struck out on Jameel grounds because of their inherent gravity and the fact that the speaker was a court officer purporting to act in relation to Court business;
(4) Although one of the incidents of harrassment was not capable of amounting to harrassment and would be struck out, the question of whether the remainder could amount to a course of conduct was a matter for trial.


Comment

A comment about someone’s physical appearance may amount to an imputation on their trade for the purposes of a slander action where the trade involves something more than natural resemblance – such as performance, voice and make up. Cf: Berkoff v Burchill [1996] 4 All ER 1008 (imputation of hideous ugliness may be defamatory where intended to hold the C up to ridicule). In considering whether to strike out the Ali G allegation on Jameel grounds, the Court had regard to the fact that the slander was only actionable because of its potential effect on the Claimant’s business and on the facts there was no reason to believe that there would be such effect.


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Instructing Solicitors

Claimant in person; Treasury Solicitor for Defendants