Update 7 November 2019 for a second What’sApp defamation case under the common law see 5 November Tallha Abdulrazaq v Nibras Hassan  EWHC 2930 (QB) – where jurisdiction was not an issue.
In  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.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.10