Prince wins libel and DPA appeals

Court of Appeal rules adding DPA inaccuracy claim to libel claim permissible; also finds for Prince on defamatory meaning

The Court of Appeal has rejected a news website publisher’s contention that bringing a claim for unfair and inaccurate processing under the Data Protection Act 1998 alongside a claim for libel was an abuse of process, and clarified that meanings of disloyalty can be defamatory.

Elaph Publishing Ltd appealed against a decision of Dingemans J to permit Prince Moulay Hicham of Morocco to add, by amendment to his existing libel claim, a claim for breaches of the first and fourth data protection principles, including for rectification of the inaccurate statements. It contended that such a claim should be refused as an abuse of the process of the court in the Jameel sense, and given the political context of the article would be an unnecessary and disproportionate interference with its Article 10 rights.

The Prince had complained that an article about him on the Elaph website was inaccurate and defamatory. Elaph removed the article, and did not contend that the story was true, but refused to publish any form of correction or undertake not to re-publish the article.

Rejecting Elaph’s appeal, Simon LJ, with whom Patten and King LJJ agreed, held that there was “no good reason of principle why a claim under the DPA cannot be linked to a defamation claim” and that, if the article was not defamatory, “the DPA claim may found an appropriate alternative means of redress”.  However he cautioned that case management was necessary to achieve “a just result in a proportionate manner”, and to avoid “stifling criticism under the guise of correcting inaccuracy.”

The defamatory meaning appeal

Dingemans J had also ruled that it was not capable of being defamatory to say of someone that they were working against the interests of the ruler of a country, as this would only damage their reputation in the eyes of a section of the public, relying on Modi v Clarke.

The Court allowed the Prince’s appeal on this point, finding that on a proper analysis Modi supported a more limited proposition than the Judge had thought: it may be defamatory of someone to say they are working against the interests of an institution or ruler, depending on the words used and their context. Here, the article was not, as Elaph had contended, political in context, and the focus of the allegations was on the means used and the motivations ascribed to the Prince. The article, which used words such as “schemes”, “entrap”, “ploy”, “machinations” and “weave”, was capable of bearing a meaning that the Prince had shown himself devious, underhand and disloyal, and was capable of seriously harming his reputation in the eyes of reasonable people.

The judgment can be read in full here.

5RB‘s Justin Rushbrooke QC and Richard Munden (instructed by Lee & Thompson) represented the Prince.