Truth defence ruled out in charity case

Warby J refuses defences but allows Third Defendant to plead a new public interest defence

The High Court has refused to grant three defendants permission to plead a defence of truth, but has allowed the third defendant a further opportunity to formulate a public interest defence, in the case of Suresh v Samad and Others – a claim in defamation brought by the Chairman of a West London Charity.

Selvaratnam Suresh, Chairman of the Oriental Fine Arts Academy of London (OFAAL), is suing three defendants in respect of two videos published on YouTube and Facebook, in which the Defendants accused the claimant of misconduct in his position as Chairman, including allegedly defrauding OFAAL of approximately half a million pounds of charity funds.

On Friday 27 January 2017 Mr Justice Warby held that all three defendants had no real prospect of establishing the truth of the allegations made in the videos, and also ruled that the first and second defendants had no prospect of succeeding with public interest defences. Addressing the truth defence, Warby J stated: “The evidence, taken as a whole, convinces me that there is no real prospect that such a defence could be pleaded and proved“.

In assessing the defendants’ public interest defence, Warby J applied his recent decision in Economou v De Freitas [2016] EWHC (QB) and found that: “There was nothing in the way of suspect or questionable financial conduct that [the first and second defendants] could reasonably have believed should be made public via the publications complained of.

Although the third defendant’s public interest defence was also deemed to be inadequate as currently pleaded, Warby J gave him a further opportunity to re-plead the defence on the basis that the defence could not be considered to have no real prospect of success. The defendants were also granted permission to amend their defence in relation to meaning, responsibility for publication, serious harm (in respect of the Facebook video only), to which the claimant did not object.

The judgment follows an earlier decision in which Mr Justice Warby struck out earlier versions of the defendants’ defences and granted summary judgment in favour of the claimant on the issues of publication, reference, serious harm, innocent dissemination and responsibility for publication of the Facebook videos by the third defendant.

The matter will now proceed to a trial on the issues of (1) meaning, (2) responsibility for publication of the YouTube videos, (3) serious harm in relation to the Facebook videos and (4) a possible public interest defence by the third defendant.

The judgment can be read in full here.

5RB‘s Julian Santos (instructed by Amirthan & Suresh Solicitors) represented the Claimant.