The court considered first the questions of what was at stake in the action and the delay in the proceedings.
Below, the Master had held that the allegations were “in really quite strong terms”. In the absence of evidence that the publishees would have forgotten the alleged libels, a vindication of C were he to succeed therefore remained a solid and substantial reason to proceed. Sir Michael Tugendhat, however, found no basis in authority, whether at trial or as part of an application to strike out, for a requirement that such evidence be provided. On the contrary, the courts have repeatedly placed emphasis on the need for libel claimants to pursue claims expeditiously, printed publications, as here, being ephemeral. Further on this point the judge found the Master to have erred by failing to consider what would have fallen to be taken into account were damages to have needed to be assessed: these included C’s loss of connection with Leeds, and football, the facts of C’s convictions, and the Jersey courts’ conclusions both that C had disposed of money claimed by D2 and in respect of C’s conduct of the litigation brought against his company.
As to the delay in proceedings, the Master had considered the second of the two periods of delay to be the more relevant, but that it had been reasonable for C to have considered the Chancery Division to be the right forum to deal with issues concerning breach of trust which formed the basis of certain of the libel pleadings. “With some hesitation”, because the rules have tightened since the authority relied on by the Master, the judge held the Master entitled to take this view in respect of the second period of delay. But he found her to have erred in not giving the first period of delay due weight. That delay, and the absence of explanation for it, gave rise to a strong inference that C was abusing the process of the court, whether or not C might also have had reputational vindication in mind. The facts of C’s conduct of his defence to the Jersey proceedings was consistent with that inference.
Given these findings, the appeal was successful. No findings were made about the other grounds of appeal, therefore.