Sunderland Housing Company & another v Baines & others

Reference: [2006] EWHC 2359 (QB)

Court: Queen's Bench Division

Judge: Eady J

Date of judgment: 26 Jul 2006

Summary:

Defamation- Libel - Harassment - Data protection - Injunctive relief - Responsibility for website - Whether injunctive relief should be granted - John Doe order

Appearances: Adam Speker (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Olswang for the Claimants; David Price for the First Defendant; Carter-Ruck for the Second and Fourth Defendants

Facts

C1, a company responsible for public housing in Sunderland and C2, its chief executive (together with representative parties), sought interim injunctive relief in respect of allegations published on an anonymous website called Dad’s Place. C1 and C2 relied upon defamation, harassment and data protection. D1 admitted responsibility for the website but stated an intention to justify. D2 and D4 denied in witness statements any responsibility for the website. D3 did not attend. D5 was a John Doe Defendant.

This was a return date from a hearing before Davis J on 19 July 2006.

Issue

Whether C1 and C2 should be entitled to injunctive relief against all or any of the Ds

Held

C1 was not entitled to injunctive relief because it was a corporate entity and arguably a public body: Derbyshire County Council v Times Newspapers considered.

C2 was entitled to injunctive relief in defamation, harassment and data protection against D1, D3 and D5. C2 had produced a witness statement stating that the allegations were untrue and it was not sufficient for D1 to merely assert an intention to justify without identifying the extent to which he proposes and intends to do so and supports it with a statement of truth: Bonnard v Perryman distinguished. Moreover, anonymous postings were a particularly distressing form or harassment and D1 was not a registered data processor and was hence processing data improperly.

No injunctive relief was granted against D2 and D4 because whilst there were suspicions there was a clear conflict on the evidence that could not be determined on paper nor was there was evidence of further publication.

Comment

This decision, although ex tempore, is interesting for 2 reasons. The Court distinguished Bonnard v Perryman. It held that in light of the art 8 and art 10 balancing act that the Courts are now required to conduct it is not enough for a Defendant to merely assert an intention to justify where a Claimant provides evidence that the words are untrue. There is a greater onus on Defendants to demonstrate what allegations they intend to justify and be prepared to back them with a statement of truth.

Second, an injunction was granted under the DPA because D1 was held not to be a registered processor. In Mahmood v Galloway [2006] EWHC 1286 (QB), a case not cited to the Court, Mitting J did not consider injunctive relief was available under the DPA.

5RB’s Adam Speker acted for D2 and D4.