Steinberg v Pritchard Englefield (No 2)
Reference:  EWCA Civ 824
Court: Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judge: Ward LJ, Sedley LJ, and Longmore LJ
Date of judgment: 5 Jul 2005
Summary: Adjournments - Defamation - Summary Judgment - Appeal -Absence of party at hearing - Publication - Website
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Instructing Solicitors: Appellant in person; Respondent did not appear and not represented
Summary judgment was granted against the Defendant (S) in a libel action. S appealed the decision but the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal at a hearing in which S was neither present nor was represented. S applied to set aside the judgment. S submitted that the Court of Appeal should not have proceeded with the hearing in his absence, particularly having regard to a psychological report about his state which, due to an oversight by the Civil Appeals Office, had not been put before the court.
(1) Whether it was contrary to justice to dismiss an appeal against summary judgment in libel proceedings in the absence of the appellant.
(2) Whether the appeal against summary judgment should be allowed.
(1) A party was entitled to a fair chance of presenting his case but does not have an indefeasible right to do so regardless of the delay and prejudice an indefinite adjournment might cause. The psychiatric report offered no prospect of S ever being able to conduct his own case or secure representation. Justice required the interests of other parties and the public interest in finality to be taken into account. S had provided very full written submissions and the court would have proceeded with the hearing even if the psychiatric report had been before it.
(2) The appeal had no prospect of success. The judge had not been prepared to infer that publication of the words by S had been widespread but equally was not prepared to accept that it had been negligible or factitious in the absence of rebutting evidence. To reopen the appeal to entertain further submissions on the point still unsupported by evidence would inexorably result in the appeal being dismissed once more.
One wonders whether the Court of Appeal would have come to a different decision on the adjournment had the Defendant’s case had a greater prospect of success.