Full case report

Sharma v Jay & Others

Reference 15/04/2003
Court Queen's Bench Division

Judge Gray J

Date of Judgment 15 Apr 2003


Summary

Defamation- Harassment- Protection from Harassment Act 1997- Malice- Slander- Application to strike out claim for harassment and plea of malice- CPR Part 3.4 and Part 24.2


Facts

The Claimant was a psychiatrist with a particular interest in schizophrenia. As well as being a senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry (“IOP”) he owned a private clinical research-based company called Psychmed Limited. In 1999 the Claimant agreed to carry out a comparative study into drugs for schizophrenia which was funded by a pharmaceutical company in the sum of £175,000. In 2000 the company became concerned about certain aspects of the Claimant’s conduct and retained the Third Defendant to investigate its concerns. The First and Second Defendant (for the Third Defendant) attended a meeting in March 2001 at the IOP in order to find out more about the study.
The Claimant contended that at the meeting he was slandered and that the Defendants investigations which involved approaching a number of third parties amounted to harassment. The Defendants pleaded qualified privilege and justification. The Defendants applied to strike out, alternatively apply for summary judgment.


Issue

(1) Whether the Reply disclosed a reasonable prospect of success in proving malice to defeat a defence of qualified privilege to the slander claim; (2) Whether the Reply disclosed a reasonable prospect of proving harassment.


Held

In relation to the application to strike out under r3.4 the court had to assume that the facts were as alleged in the statement of case which was sought to be struck out. So far as the application for summary judgment was concerned, the correct approach to be taken was to consider whether, on the evidence taken at its highest, a jury could not properly come to a conclusion in favour of the party against whom sumary judgment was sought: Swain v Hillman [2001] 1 All ER 91; Alexander v Arts Council of Wales [2001] 1 WLR. The Court held that most of the particulars of malice should be struck out. In light of the decision in Thomas v News Group Newspapers Limited & Another [2001] EWCA Civ 1233 the principal questions to be asked in relation to striking out a harassment claim related to the quality of the acts said to constitute a course of conduct that amounted to harassment. On the evidence the Claimant had failed to establish that the defendant’s conduct had been unreasonable or oppressiv


Comment

The dismissal of the Claimant’s action for harassment shows that the Courts apply a strict test to the behaviour that can properly be characterised as “harassment”.


Instructing Solicitors

Peter-Carter Ruck and Partners for the Claimant; Wiggin & Co for the Defendants