Turcu v News Group Newspapers Ltd
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 21 Mar 2005
Summary: Defamation - abuse of process - lack of evidence from Claimant - CFA agreements - inference of desire for vindication - summary judgment - mode of trial
Adam Wolanski QC (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: David Price for the Claimant; Farrer & Co for the Defendant.
The Claimant sued in respect of articles published in November 2002 alleging he was a member of a gang of criminals which had planned to kidnap Victoria Beckham. The Defendant relied upon covertly recorded video tapes in support of its plea of justification. Shortly before witness statements were exchanged the Claimant admitted that Alin Turcu was not his real name and that by using this name he had deceived the UK immigration authorities as well as the parties and the court in these proceedings. There was no evidence in any form from the Claimant for use at trial and his solicitor, who was acting under a CFA agreement, asserted that the Claimant was in Romania and was unable to attend trial.
(1) Whether the claim should be stayed as an abuse of process;
(2) Whether the plea of justification should be struck out and judgment entered for the Claimant;
(3) Whether the claim should be tried by judge alone.
(1) The claim was not an abuse of process. While relatively few readers may have identified the Claimant from the articles, that in itself was not a stumbling block for the Claimant. Despite the lack of evidence from the Claimant, it was unreal to suppose that the Claimant lacked any desire for vindication in light of the gravity of the allegations. However powerful the factors relied upon in mitigation of damages, and despite the real problems faced by media defendants in CFA funded cases, the claim should be allowed to proceed.
(2) The plea of justification should not be struck out since the Claimant could not show that the Defendant would be unable to substantiate its pleaded case at trial.
(3) The claim should be tried by judge alone. The main issue at trial would be whether or not the Claimant’s covertly recorded conversations about kidnapping were mere ‘idle pub banter’ or not. This would require careful consideration of documents, particularly the covert recordings.
The judge described the case as “extraordinary in many ways”, not least because the trial would be conducted in the absence of the claimant and without any evidence at all from him. The judge emphasised that the “new doctrine” established by the Court of Appeal in <A
target=_parent>Dow Jones v Jameel  EWCA Civ 75 was to be applied only in exceptional circumstances, and noted that the Jameel case itself has already been distinguished by the Court of Appeal in Pritchard Englefield v Steinberg (Unrep., 3 March 2005). The decision on mode of trial points to an increasing trend away from trial by jury.