The Claimant, Mr William Tinkler, was a substantial shareholder in and an executive director of Stobart Group Limited (“Stobart”). The five Defendants held various roles at Stobart.
A dispute arose within Stobart’s board over whether the First Defendant should remain as Chairman. He and the four other Defendants believed he should; the Claimant disagreed. Matters came to a head, and on 29 May 2018 Stobart issued an announcement concerning the Claimant (“the Announcement”) in the name of its “Ongoing Board”, which was defined to include the Defendants. On 8 June 2018, the Claimant issued proceedings in libel and malicious falsehood.
The following day, the Claimant wrote to Stobart’s shareholders and employees, criticising the Defendants’ actions and urging shareholders to vote against the First Defendant’s re-election as Chair. On 14 June 2018, Stobart terminated the Claimant’s employment on the grounds that he had attempted to destabilise the company. The next day, it commenced a claim against him in the Commercial Court (“the Stobart Action”); the Claimant counterclaimed.
Judgment in the latter proceedings (“the Stobart Judgment”), which had necessitated consideration of the Announcement, was handed down on 15 February 2019. The Claimant’s dismissal was upheld, and he was twice refused permission to appeal. His libel and malicious falsehood proceedings against the Defendants continued, however. Preliminary meaning issues were determined in a judgment given on 17 December 2018, which the claimant unsuccessfully appealed. On 14 June 2019, the Claimant secured permission to make limited amendments to his claim, ultimately leading, in September 2019, to the abandonment of the libel action.
On 3 January 2020, the Defendants applied for an order staying (alternatively, striking out) the remaining malicious falsehood action, on the grounds that it would involve the re-litigation of the Stobart Action or a collateral attack upon the Stobart Judgment, and thereby amount to an abuse of process. In the alternative, the Defendants contended that in failing to allege special damage, or advance a reasonably arguable or properly particularised case under s.3(1), Defamation Act 1952, the claim disclosed no reasonable grounds for being brought, and should be struck out on that basis. Further, or alternatively, they argued that the action should, in light of the Stobart Judgment and the Claimant’s inability to establish a substantial tort, be struck out as an abuse of process pursuant to the principle established in Dow Jones & Co Inc v Jameel  QB 946. Finally, the Fourth Defendant advanced a further, alternative ground, seeking the dismissal of the action, or summary judgment against the Claimant, on the grounds that the Claimant had advanced no case of malice against him (or none that had any real prospect of success).
Nicklin J heard the Defendants’ application on 31 March and 1 April 2020.