City libel claim struck out

Former banker’s case against colleague is statute-barred

A libel claim brought over two emails sent by a former employee of a Russian Bank has been struck out in a judgment handed down on Friday 12 February by Mr Justice Dingemans. The Claimant, Svetlana Lokhova, worked at Sberbank CIB in London where the Defendant, Piotr Tymula, was a colleague.

In April 2012 the Claimant left Sberbank and brought proceedings in the Employment Tribunal against it, her line managers, and other respondents for sex discrimination, harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal. She was successful and was awarded £1,762,129.50 in compensation.

The libel claim was issued in November 2012 in respect of the two emails, sent to three colleagues while the Claimant still worked with the Defendant in September 2011. The parties agreed a stay during the employment proceedings until four weeks after their disposal (whether by hand down of judgment or settlement).

The Remedies judgment in the employment proceedings was handed down on 5 March 2015, and the judge held that the stay then ended on 3 April 2015, on the basis both of the terms of the stay itself, and because he found the parties later varied their agreement to make the position clear as to when it expired. The Claimant did not take any steps to progress the libel action until 30 September 2015.

On the Defendant’s application to strike out the Claimant’s claim because the cause of action was statute barred, and on the Claimant’s application to disapply the limitation period, the Judge held that it was not equitable to allow the action to proceed: as he found, the Claimant did nothing to pursue the claim for an unexplained period of delay in a case which was weak, and was subsequently seeking to pursue a wider case against the Claimant than that which had originally been put forward. The balance of prejudice favoured the Defendant.

The Defendant also applied to strike out the claim as a Jameel abuse of process, and for reverse summary judgment on the basis that emails were published on an occasion of qualified privilege and the Claimant had not identified an arguable case on malice. On the Jameel application, the Judge held that the proceedings were capable of amounting to a real and substantial tort in spite of the very limited publication. On qualified privilege and malice, he held that the emails were published on an occasion of qualified privilege, and that there was a case on malice which, although it could fairly be characterised as weak, was arguable.

Justin Rushbrooke QC and Gervase de Wilde of 5RB, instructed by Carter-Ruck, acted for the Defendant. David Sherborne and Julian Santos, also of 5RB, instructed by Taylor Wessing LLP, acted for the Claimant.