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Court: Queen's Bench Division (Media and Communications List)

High Court gives judgment on meaning as a preliminary issue in a libel claim

Greensill Capital Ltd v Reuters News & Media Ltd [2020] EWHC 1325 (QB)

The claim was brought by an investment company (first claimant) and its founder and chief executive (second claimant) in relation to an article on the Reuter’s news website. The claimants contended the article’s natural and ordinary meaning was that they had knowingly provided false information to bond market participants to the effect that the Scottish government had granted a guarantee which would have substantially inflated the value of bonds it had issued, when they knew this was not true, thereby committing a criminal offence of market abuse.

The defendant disputed this meaning, contending that the article meant the company had issued a false statement to bond market participants stating that the Scottish government had approved a guarantee related to the Kinlochleven hydro plant, but in fact the Scottish government had not given approval of the guarantee and that questions therefore remained as to how the company came to issue the statement. The defendant also contended that the article did not bear any meaning which was defamatory at common law of the second claimant and that his claim should be struck out.

The court upheld the defendant’s contention that the article did not bear a defamatory meaning of the second claimant at all, and judgment was entered for the defendant on his claim, with costs, related to the alleged natural and ordinary meaning. In relation to the company, the court rejected the claimants’ meaning and held that the article bore a meaning close to the defendant’s, namely that (1) the company had provided false information to bond market investors to the effect that the Scottish government had approved a guarantee related to Kinlochleven when, in fact, no such guarantee had been given, and (2) consequently, there were grounds to investigate how this false statement had come to be made and whether the company knew that it was false when it was issued and whether it had committed any offence of market abuse. This was therefore a relatively rare example of the court finding a Chase level 3 meaning.

High Court determines meaning of videos in Tommy Robinson libel case

Hizaji (litigation friend Yousef) v Yaxley-Lennon [2020] EWHC 934 (QB)

This judgment is to determine the meaning of two videos that were posted on Facebook by the Defendant on 28 and 29 November 2018. Both videos were self-recordings showing the Defendant addressing his remarks directly to the camera. This court is not asked to assess whether these meanings are true, at this stage.

The natural and ordinary meaning of the First Video is:

“The Claimant had (1) as part of a gang, participated in a violent assault on a young girl which had caused her significant injuries; and (2) threatened to stab another child.”

And the meaning of the Second Video is:

“The Claimant had, as part of a gang, participated in a violent assault on a young girl which had caused her significant injuries.”

High Court rules on meaning in Sakho libel case

Sakho v World Anti-Doping Agency [2020] EWHC 251 (QB)

The claimant is a professional footballer who currently plays for Crystal Palace Football Club. He has brought a defamation claim against the World Anti-Doping Agency. This judgment addresses a preliminary issue as to the meaning of the words complained of by the claimant, but also as to whether the judge should determine the meaning only of the primary publications or also of certain republications.

The primary publications are emails to journalists at national newspapers, whereas the republications are the printed newspaper articles, which include the wording of the emails. 

Held: The meanings of the Articles are relevant to the determination of whether publication of the words complained of has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the claimant’s reputation; and determining their meanings at this stage is in accordance with the overriding objective. The judge went on to find that the meaning of the articles bore a different meaning to the emails.

High Court declines to hear Bitcoin libel claim due to pending proceedings abroad

Wright v Granath [2020] EWHC 51

In a judgment handed down on 16 January 2020, the High Court has declined jurisdiction over a libel claim arising from the disputed identity of “Satoshi Nakamoto”, the pseudonym used by the founder of digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Applying Article 27 of the Lugano Convention (which regulates jurisdiction over civil cases as between EU member states and EFTA states), the Court judged that proceedings issued in Norway by the English defendant before the English proceedings began involved the same cause of action. As such Article 27 required that the English court took the proceedings no further. The judgment offers guidance as to the application of international jurisdiction rules in the context of libel claims.

News article about Conservative Member made allegation of “strong grounds to suspect” anti-semitism

Lord Sheikh v Associated Newspapers [2019] EWHC 2947 (QB)

This claim concerned an article published by it on the Mail Online website on and after 15 August 2018 under the headline:

“EXCLUSIVE: Top Tory peer’s appearance at Corbyn’s ‘hate conference’ in Tunisia comes after YEARS of rubbing shoulders with Islamists, hate preachers and Holocaust deniers”.

Following pre-action correspondence, the parties agreed to a trial of preliminary issues in relation to the following:

1. what meaning(s) the words and photographs complained of bear; and
2. whether the words and photographs complained of, in the meanings found, are statements of fact or expressions of opinion.

Held: The article was essentially factual reporting of the claimant’s conduct, coupled with some express and implied conclusions about its significance.

The natural and ordinary meaning of the words and photographs complained of, in their context, is that the claimant has a long history of support for, or close association with, people and organisations that express or hold anti-Semitic and other extremist views and attitudes. Despite his attempts to explain it, the article:

i. provides strong grounds for suspecting that the claimant is secretly an anti-Semite who approves of and sympathises with Holocaust denial, Islamist jihad and hatepreaching, which he is prepared knowingly and actively to support;
ii. is shocking and disturbing.