Posts Tagged Libel tourism

Sadik v Sadik. Domicile, libel tourism and the absence of party autonomy in the Defamation Act 2013.

Update 7 November 2019 for a second What’sApp defamation case under the common law see 5 November Tallha Abdulrazaq v Nibras Hassan [2019] EWHC 2930 (QB) – where jurisdiction was not an issue. 

In [2019] EWHC 2717 (QB) Sadik v Sadik, the claim is one in libel. Claimant is a businessman and philanthropist who lives in Dubai and spends 30 to 35 days in London each year. Claimant and Defendant are brother and sister in law. Defendant has a house in Kuwait with her husband. Until at least 19 September 2017 she lived in London, whilst also maintaining a house in Kuwait.

Defendant is prepared to accept for the purposes of this application that the relevant date for determining domicile is the date proceedings were commenced, ie 26 September 2017: see inter alia JSC BTA Bank v Mukhtar Ablyazov. (Upheld on Appeal). Should no domicile in the UK (or another EU /Lugano State) be upheld, forum non conveniens kicks in.

The UK Defamation Act 2013 (the DA 2013) was entered precisely to address libel tourism in the UK. It reads in relevant part (Section 9)

 Action against a person not domiciled in the UK or a Member State etc 

(1) This section applies to an action for defamation against a person who is not domiciled 

(a) in the United Kingdom; (b) in another Member State; or (c) in a state which is for the time being a contracting party to the Lugano Convention.

(2) A court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine an action to which this section applies unless the court is satisfied that, of all the places in which the statement complained of has been published, England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate place in which to bring an action in respect of the statement.

(3) The references in subsection (2) to the statement complained of include references to any statement which conveys the same, or substantially the same, imputation as the statement complained of.

(4) For the purposes of this section –(a) a person is domiciled in the United Kingdom or in another Member State if the person is domiciled there for the purposes of the Brussels Regulation; (b) a person is domiciled in a state which is a contracting party to the Lugano Convention if the person is domiciled in the state for the purposes of that Convention.”

Defendant says that the Claimant cannot possibly satisfy the test in s 9(2). That is because Claimant in her view does not complain of any publication within this jurisdiction. She submits that s 9 implicitly requires the words complained of to have been published in England and Wales: ‘of all the places in which the statement complained of has been published…’. In effect, she says that s 9 means that this court does not have jurisdiction to hear a claim against a defendant not domiciled in the jurisdiction (or within a Brussels/Lugano state) for a claim in respect of solely foreign publication. In the alternative, if is necessary for the court to compare jurisdictions to determine which is the most appropriate forum for trial Defendant submits that the burden is on the Claimant to demonstrate that England and Wales is clearly the most appropriate forum, and there is no realistic prospect of him being able to discharge that burden. She points in particular to the fact that both of the parties are based in the Middle East, as are all of the publishees of the What’sApp Messages concerned, save for one, who is based in the United States.

Claimant submits that Defendant has submitted to the jurisdiction and so can no longer dispute the Court’s jurisdiction under s 9 of the DA 2013, or otherwise. Further or alternatively, he submits that provision is of no assistance because she was domiciled within the jurisdiction at the relevant time.

At 55 Knowles J holds that failure by a defamation defendant to follow the procedure in Part 11 of the civil procedure rules, for contesting jurisdiction under s 9 does not mean that her right to make a jurisdictional challenge under that section has been waived. ‘Section 9(2) is in mandatory form. Where the defendant is not domiciled within one of the specified jurisdictions then s 9(2) provides (emphasis added), ‘A court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine an action to which this section applies unless …’. In my judgment jurisdiction under s 9 cannot be conferred by waiver, submission or consent. It is concerned with the subject matter of the suit and not with personal jurisdiction over the defendant.’ In the DA 2013 Parliament in other words inserted mandatory rules on jurisdiction which are not within the remit of party autonomy.

At 60 ff then follows the analysis of ‘domicile’ for natural persons under English law (following Article 62 Brussels Ia’s deference to national law), leading to a conclusion of domicile in the UK at the relevant time.

The remainder of the case discusses grounds for summary dismissal on the grounds of substantive English libel law.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.10

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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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