Rare defamation decision in Chancery Division

Chancery Chief Master denies Claimants’ amendment to a defamation claim and Defendants’ application for trial of preliminary issue

In a judgment handed down today in Astra Asset Management & Anor v Musst Investments & Siddiqi Chief Master Marsh has refused applications by both sides.  The action is a claim for slander and malicious falsehood which overlaps with a breach of contract claim involving related parties, in that the contract counter-claim involves the alleged words complained of in the defamation claim.

In respect of the defamation claim, the Claimants had sought to plead further statements to a new publishee to be sued on; while the Defendants, who deny that words complained of were ever spoken, had applied for a trial of publication as a preliminary issue, and were suggesting that the trial of the contract claim could stand as such a trial.

The Chief Master dismissed the Claimants’ amendment application on the basis that the limitation period had expired, and they could not rely on section 32A of the Limitation Act 1980 or CPR 17.4(2). He dismissed the preliminary issue trial proposal as being only superficially attractive, with a joint trial of both the contract and defamation claims being the better course of action.

The notable feature of the judgment is that the hearing took place in the Chancery Division, the defamation claim having been transferred to it from the Queen’s Bench Division at the request of the parties, to be case managed with the earlier contract claim.  The reasoning behind the parties’ request and Warby J’s agreement to it was the efficacy of both actions being heard together.

Trial of the two actions is to take place in 2021.

The judgment can be downloaded from the ‘Files’ link below.

5RB’s Tom Blackburn SC for Astra Asset Management in the defamation claim, instructed by Payne Hicks Beach

5RB’s Richard Munden for Musst Investments and Mr Siddiqi in the defamation claim, instructed by Collyer Bristow LLP