Court of Appeal upholds strict liability for innuendo meanings

Elena Baturina’s appeal succeeds, Sunday Times’ cross-appeal allowed in part

In a judgment handed down on Wednesday 23 March 2011 in the ‘innuendo’ libel claim brought by Russian businesswoman Elena Baturina, the Court of Appeal has rejected the newspaper’s argument that the strict liability rule which applies to innuendo meanings should be abolished.

Times Newspapers Ltd had argued (by way of cross-appeal) that it should only be liable if it could reasonably have foreseen that the article would be defamatory of her. But the Court of Appeal held that previous decisions such as Cassidy v Daily Mirror Newspapers [1929] 2 KB 331 remain good law, notwithstanding the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Court also allowed Mrs Baturina’s appeal against a preliminary ruling of Mr Justice Eady that refused to allow her to sue over hard copies of the Sunday Times published in this jurisdiction or over publication via the internet.

Whilst upholding Mr Justice Eady’s ruling that the proceedings should not be struck out as an abuse of process under the Jameel v Dow Jones doctrine, the Court did however rule that Mrs Baturina’s Particulars of Claim should identify the readers who appreciated the innuendo meanings pleaded.

The dispute arose out of article published in the Sunday Times in September 2009 which claimed that Mrs Baturina had purchased a certain house in North London for £50 million. Mrs Baturina alleged that this defamed her in the eyes of readers who were aware of her declaration of assets under Russian anti-corruption legislation made a few months previously.

5RB‘s Justin Rushbrooke (instructed by Lass Salt Garvin) is junior counsel for Mrs Baturina.

Read the judgment here