Wafic Rida Saïd v (1) Groupe L’Express (2) Guillaume Dubois

Reference: [2018] EWHC 3593 (QB)

Court: High Court, Media and Communications List (QBD)

Judge: Nicol J

Date of judgment: 21 Dec 2018

Summary: Defamation – Jurisdiction – Serious Harm – Jameel Abuse – Online Publication - Injunction - Centre of Interests

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Appearances: Justin Rushbrooke QC (Claimant)  Victoria Simon-Shore (Claimant)  Greg Callus (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: Carter-Ruck for the Claimant; Atkins Thomson for the Defendants.

Facts

C is a businessman and philanthropist, resident in Monaco. He has substantial ties to England, and founded the Säid Business School at the University of Oxford.

D1 is the publisher of a French language magazine L’Express, which circulates principally in France but has circulation in England and Wales. D2 was ‘directeur de la publication, directeur de la rédaction’ of L’Express and was alleged to have editorial responsibility for the publication complained of.

On 2 May 2018 D1 published an article entitled “Le Diplomate aux mallets de cash” (translated as ‘The Diplomat with Briefcases full of cash’) in the hard copy version of the Magazine. D1 also operated a website on which a copy of the Article appeared.

C brought a claim in libel over the Article. C contended that the Article bore meanings suggesting that C had engaged in serious financial impropriety. C’s claim for damages were limited to publication of the article in England and Wales. The claim for an injunction had no such limitations.

Ds challenged the jurisdiction of the English Court to grant an online injunction because the UK was not the Member State of their domicile or C’s “centre of interests”, and (if that was correct) said a print-only injunction could not be “just and convenient” (s.37 Senior Courts Act 1981) if online publication would continue in any event. Ds further submitted that the Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the libel claim at all because there was no good arguable case of serious harm to reputation, and/or that the claim should be struck out for Jameel abuse.

Issue

(1) Can C establish that the Court has jurisdiction to determine the libel claim?

(2) Could an injunction be made to restrain the continued publication of the online article?

(3) Could an injunction be made in respect of non-internet publications?

(4) Does the claim amount to a Jameel abuse of process?

Held

(1) C had established jurisdiction.

The Court did have jurisdiction as C could show a ‘good arguable case’ for his claim. Serious harm to his reputation could be inferred: it is not necessary for a libel claimant to identify any publishee who has thought the less of him as a result of the publication; and on the facts the scale of publication was not minimal and has, or was likely in the future, to include publishees who are of importance to C’s reputation. Pleading special damage is not a necessary component of establishing serious harm.

(2) The Court could not grant C an injunction for material online.

C did not have a ‘good arguable case’ to restrain publication of the online article. As D was not domiciled in England, such relief could only be granted if England was the centre of C’s interests, per Bolagsupplysningen OÜ v Svensk Handel AB (C-194/16) [2018] Q.B. 963. C’s evidence of links to England and Wales did not displace his habitual residence, Monaco, as being the centre of his interests.

(3) The Court could grant an injunction for non-internet publications.

This was not a case where C was seeking an interim injunction. Where a libel claimant succeeds at trial, ordinarily a final injunction will be granted.  There was a good arguable case that C would be granted an injunction in his libel claim in respect of the non-internet publications if successful.

(4) The claim was not an abuse of process.

The Court of Appeal in Lachaux at [79] stated that the Jameel principle (where a libel claim may be struck out if it is not a real and substantial tort) overlaps with the test of ‘serious harm’.  C had established that he has a good arguable case to satisfy the serious harm test and consequently there has been a serious tort committed against him.

Comment

This case identifies the difficulties of gaining a worldwide injunction in respect of internet publications where a claimant has substantial links to several countries. Bolagsupplysningen provides that a claimant seeking an injunction against internet publications may only be granted relief if they are doing so in a Member State where the defendant is domiciled, or in a Member State that is the centre of interests of a claimant. A claimant can have but one centre of interests. Normally an individual’s centre of interests will be the state of his habitual residence. Despite substantial links to England and Wales C failed to persuade Nicol J that these ties supplanted Monaco as his centre of interests.