Reference:  EWHC 304 (QB)
Court: High Court (Media & Communications List) (QBD)
Judge: Steyn J
Date of judgment: 14 Feb 2022
Summary: Joinder – Disclosure – Amendments – Further Information
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David Sherborne (Defendant)
Ben Hamer (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: Kinglsey Napley for the Defendant; Brabners for the Defendant; Bindmans for the Respondent, Caroline Watt.
Rebekah Vardy (“C”) brought a claim in libel against Coleen Rooney (“D”) over a post that alleged she had leaked information from Ms Rooney’s private Instagram to the press (“the Post”).
D had posted a number of fake stories on her Private Instagram account in order to discover where the leak was coming from: a story about gender selection in Mexico; a story about D returning to television presenting (“the TV Decisions Post”), and a story about the basement flooding in the Defendant’s new house.
Given suspicions about the identity of the source of these leaks, D had deliberately limited the accessibility to this private account to just one of her followers: C’s account. Articles similar to the fake stories (about D considering gender selection in Mexico; D returning to television presenting (“the TV Decisions Article”) and the basement flooding in D’s new house) appeared in The Sun soon after.
Following disclosure, D applied for (a) permission to join Caroline Watt, C’s agent, to the proceedings; (b) permission to amend; (c) for specific disclosure; (d) for an order for the parties’ experts to make a request to Instagram.
C applied for (a) specific disclosure; and (b) further information.
(1) Should the Claimant’s agent, Caroline Watt, be joined to the proceedings?
(2) Should the Defendant be granted permission to amend?
(3) Should the Defendant be granted specific disclosure against the Claimant be ordered?
(4) Should the Defendant’s application for an order to make a request to Instagram be granted?
(5) Should the Claimant’s disclosure applications be granted?
(6) Should the Claimant’s request for further information be ordered?
(1) No. Permission under Part 20 to make an additional claim is refused, as is the alternative application for prospective a Part 7 claim to be tried on the same occasion as the current proceedings and for permission to use documents disclosed in the claim for a new Part 7 claim. While Part 20 could apply to such a claim, the application was brought too late. Granting such an application would delay the determination of the claimant’s libel claim by 6-12 months.
(2) In part. Seven amendments were allowed. Some of the proposed amendments amounted to background facts which will be issues for cross-examination and submissions and so were refused.
(3) In part. C had made two sets of redactions over what was relevant information in C’s WhatsApp messages with Ms Watt. A full manual search of these during the relevant period should be undertaken, but not on a train of enquiry basis. The redacted messages should also be disclosed, notwithstanding D was able to view underneath the redactions due to a software error.
(4) Yes. There had been an unexplained delay in seeking information from Instagram, and subject to a small amendment D’s proposed order should be made and a tight deadline imposed.
(5) No. C sought information from individuals who were not in fact custodians and D did not have control over their documents.
(6) No. C was well able to respond to the contention she disclosed other people’s private information in articles pleaded by D.
This judgment provides clarification on the operation and scope of Part 20, as well as specific disclosure and amendments sought close to a trial date.