Supreme Court refuses permission in DPA/libel claim

Defendant Elaph refused permission to appeal CA decision allowing Moroccan Prince to pursue DPA claim and restoring defamatory meanings

The Supreme Court has refused the application of London-based Arabic-language web news publisher Elaph Publishing Ltd for permission to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision allowing Prince Moulay Hicham of Morocco to bring claims in both libel and the accuracy requirement of the DPA, and restoring the Prince’s pleaded defamatory meanings.

The Court of Appeal had rejected Elaph’s appeal against a decision of Dingemans J permitting the Prince to add a claim for unfair and inaccurate processing under the Data Protection Act 1998 to an existing claim for libel. The Court of Appeal had also allowed the Prince’s appeal against the Judge’s rulings that certain pleaded meanings were not capable of being defamatory of him, in particular the allegation that he was scheming and plotting against the King of Morocco and the Moroccan regime.

Elaph argued that to allow the Prince to pursue the DPA claim by way of alternative to the libel claim was a disproportionate restriction on its freedom of expression and a violation of Article 10, marking a “profound and far-reaching shift” in English law. It also argued that such a claim was a Jameel abuse of process.

The Media Lawyers Association (by way of proposed intervention) supported the application, contending that the decision had created a right to damages for reputational harm outside the law of libel. In his written submissions to the Supreme Court the Prince countered that the Court of Appeal’s decision had not decided whether a claim for compensation under s.13 of the DPA could include reputational damage.

Refusing the application on 18 July, Lords Neuberger, Wilson and Hodge held that it did not raise an arguable point of law of general public interest requiring consideration at this time.

The Supreme Court’s decision confirms that there is no objection in principle to claims being brought both in libel and under the DPA in respect of the same published material.

See here our news item on the Court of Appeal decision.

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