High Court dismisses jurisdictional challenge in Qatar Airways case


Re: Qatar Airways Group QCSC v Middle East News FZ LLC & Ors [2020] EWHC 2975 (QB)

This case originated in the blockade that a number of Middle Eastern states, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, imposed on Qatar in June 2017. Land, sea, and air blockades were enforced, as well as the cutting of vital economic ties. The air blockade was the focus of these proceedings. By this measure, the blockade states sought to prevent Qatari registered aircraft from traversing their territorial airspace, although they were permitted to fly in and out of Qatar via permitted air corridors.

The Claimant owns and operates Qatar’s flag air carrier, the well-known international airline Qatar Airways. The Defendants are said by the Claimant to be connected with the Arabic news channel Al Arabiya. In August 2017, Al Arabiya made a live TV broadcast of an animated film concerning the air blockade. The video was also made available internationally through its own website, YouTube, and social media channels. These transmissions of the video give rise to the proceedings.

In the High Court, the Defendants sought to set aside an order for service out of the jurisdiction and applied to strike out/for summary judgment in respect of the claim against the Second Defendant, MEN UK.

The Claimant contended that the video showed a fighter jet firing a missile at a Qatar Airways jet. This, the Claimant contended, carried the meaning that if people chose to fly with Qatar Airways in and around the Middle East there was a serious risk that their aircraft would be shot down and they would be killed. Consequently, the Claimant argued that this video amounted to malicious falsehood, unlawful interference with its business, and that it was made and issued pursuant to a conspiracy between the Defendants and others aimed at harming the Claimant.

By contrast, the Defendants contended that the video was an accurate “informational and journalistic piece” created in good faith to explain the air blockade to members of the public. Accordingly, they submitted that that there was no serious issue to be tried on the merits as to the meaning of the video, claimed falsity, or malice. They also attacked the claim relying on pleading deficiencies in respect of malice/fraud, the lack of jurisdiction of English courts in respect of overseas publications of the video, limitation points, as well as arguing the lack of any real and substantial tort in England. Furthermore, they argued that the jurisdictional gateways within paragraph 3 of CPR PD 6B were not satisfied. Finally, they made a forum non conveniens challenge, arguing that the UAE is clearly the appropriate forum, and that the Claimant had not adduced cogent evidence of a real risk of substantial injustice there.

HELD: The claims against the Second Defendant are to be struck out and/or dismissed by way of summary judgment. The Court is “wholly unconvinced as to the sustainability of the case” and “It has no realistic prospect of success on the facts”.

Jurisdictional challenge dismissed. There was a serious issue to be tried that, amongst other things, the video was published maliciously with the object of harming the Claimant, the video was false or conveyed a false impression, and that the video has caused loss. Regarding forum conveniens, the Court found that there were many factors connecting the litigation to England, where, at least arguably, there had been substantial publication and loss. Additionally, the UAE was an inappropriate forum because the “measures taken by the UAE create a hostile environment for [the Claimant] and any Qataris operating in the UAE” and that “there is a real risk that anyone involved in [the Claimant’s] litigation in the UAE would be committing a crime or threatened with such and this would have a chilling effect on representatives and witnesses”.

Edward Craven and Antony White QC were involved in this case.