An end to libel tourism in the UK? The High Court in Subotic and Karpov. Abuse principles sink jurisdiction.

Two interesting cases in the High Court on libel tourism, Subotic and Karpov (both held 14 October 2013). The relevance to English libel law is set out by Robert Renfree and by Paul Dacam. Here I just wanted to flag the jurisdictional issues under the Brussels regime.

In Subotic, a Serbian national living in Switzerland, Dingemans J accepted English jurisdiction in principle although it is not entirely clear on what basis. Domicile of the defendant at the time of the initiation of the claim was alleged by claimant to have been England. However defendant disputed such domicile, referring to inferred addresses having been a left-over of earlier study in the UK (but adding complaints about his wife and children’s address in London having been found, whence the dispute on domicile was not entirely clear). Counsel for the defendant also referred to his client having shied away, for costs reasons, from English proceedings after earlier acceptance to entertain the claim – however this potential voluntary appearance under Article 24 of the Regulation was not further reviewed.  It is most likely that acceptance of jurisdiction was made on the basis of Article 5(3) of the Regulation however as readers will be aware, that does limit jurisdiction to damage in the UK only (the alleged acts leading to libel not having taken place in the UK, only some of the reputational damage). To add to the fog, parallel proceedings are alleged by plaintiff to be underway in Switzerland although their course is unclear. Finally, defendant now is domiciled in Croatia, EU Member State since 1 July 2013. As Dingemans suggested, this would certainly not stand in the way of new proceedings there (although it could of course lead to lis alibi pendens considerations, depending on what would be asked of the Croatian court).

Eventually, Dingemans held that continuation of the proceedings would amount to abuse of process, ‘The evidence shows that there was no substantial publication in England and Wales, and that there was no effect on the reputation of Mr Subotic in England and Wales.‘ There was, in other words, insufficient connection to England and Wales.

This is arguably not a refusal to exercise jurisdiction otherwise held under the Brussels I Regulation (per Owusu, that would be impossible), rather, an application of procedural rules under lex fori, or indeed a forward application of the lex causae (definitely libel under common law, as defamation is exempt from the Rome II Regulation). However upon first reflection, the abuse of process route may in circumstances such as these be seen as an application of the forum non conveniens doctrine. Any thoughts of common lawyers are certainly invited!

In Karpov, the claimant was a former Russian police officer who had brought proceedings against a British based hedge fund owner and associated companies. Simon J, too, held abuse of process in this case,  holding inter alia that ‘claimant had no connection with, and had no reputation to protect within, the jurisdiction; and therefore cannot establish a real and substantial tort within the jurisdiction.’ In this case, though, none of the defendants was domiciled in the UK (Hermitage Capital Management (UK) Limited would seem to be domiciled in Guernsey, which is not part of the UK and not subject to the jurisdiction Regulation). Jurisdiction in Karpov therefore was entirely determined by English law.

Geert.

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