Reference:  EWHC 3150 (QB)
Court: Queen's Bench Division
Judge: Eady J
Date of judgment: 2 Dec 2009
Summary: Libel - Abuse of process - Defamatory meaning - Limitation - Strike out - Real and substantial tort
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Appearances: Victoria Jolliffe (Defendant)
Instructing Solicitors: The Claimant via video-link; Davenport Lyons for the Defendant
In 2005, C had been sentenced to a minimum 22 year prison term following his conviction for murder and other offences committed during an armed robbery. Whilst in prison, C issued a claim in respect of an article published in the Daily Mirror in August 2007. The particulars of claim did not set out the meanings C relied on but his complaint related to allegations that (1) he was a police informant or ‘grass’, and (2) that he was a henchman of another convicted criminal, Colin Gunn.
The Defendant (MGN) applied to have the claim struck out on various grounds, and for summary judgment on the issue of limitation.
(1) Whether the police informant allegation was capable of bearing a defamatory meaning;
(2) Whether the claim based on the henchman meaning was an abuse of process;
(3) Whether the claim was time barred, and if so, whether the Claimant had any prospect of having the limitation period disapplied.
Striking out the claim:
(1) There were statements of law which made it plain that, in the present context, the allegation of being a ‘grass’ was, as a matter of public policy, incapable of bearing a defamatory meaning.
(2) Having regard to C’s background and serious criminal convictions, the Daily Mirror publications did not constitute a “real and substantial tort”; accordingly the claim was an abuse of process.
(3) The claim was clearly brought out of time, and there was no reason why the court would exercise its powers to disapply the limitation period, and in any event, no such application had been made.
The judgment illustrates that the abuse of process doctrine is not limited to those claims where there has been minimal publication. Refering to the recent judgment in Lonzim Plc & Ors v Sprague, Eady J observed that, the fact of being sued at all is a serious interference with freedom of expression, and that this was “clearly an important consideration for the court to have in mind on any abuse application.”