Court of Appeal takes a robust view of abusive libel actions: Jameel v Dow Jones

This action arose from an article which was posted by the defendant in the United States via a subscriber service to the Wall St Journal. The claimant sued on the basis that the material bore the defamatory meaning that he provided financial support to Al Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. This was the latest of a spate of libel claims arising from the so-called ‘golden chain’ list.

It was assumed for the purposes of the appeal that only five UK subscribers had accessed the posting. It was asserted by the defendant that of those five two did not know Mr Jameel, and that the other three were his solicitor, a director of an associated company and a consultant to Mr Jameel’s group of companies.

In its judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed the presumption of damage on the part of someone defamed without the need to prove that anyone knowing the claimant had read the article. This presumption is for all practical purposes irrebuttable.

Furthermore, the Court of Appeal laid down that claims where there has been only very limited circulation can be dealt with by proper directions to a jury, and can (in extreme circumstances) be dealt with by applications to strike out an action as an abuse of process. It said that the courts are more ready to entertain such submissions after the introduction of the Civil Procedure Rules and the Human Rights Act. The courts will stay proceedings that are not serving the legitimate purpose of protecting a claimant’s reputation, including compensating one whose reputation has been unlawfully damaged.

The court stated that where as in this case a claimant was seeking vindication, but there had been only minimal publication in this jurisdiction, a claimant cannot justify proceedings in this country on the basis that he might thereby be vindicated worldwide.

In this case, whereas a modest award of damages might constitute vindication for damage done to Mr Jameel’s reputation in this country, the damages and vindication would be minimal, and the attendant costs wholly disproportionate. Dismissing a claim as an abuse of process does not constitute an infringement of Article 6 of the Convention where such infringement is insubstantial. It may be different if there was a real risk of wider publication, but there was no such risk in this case and the prospect of the defendant repeating the article was remote, therefore obviating the need for an injunction.

The Court of Appeal has therefore taken a pragmatic view, and exercised its case management powers where the real potential value to the claimant of libel litigation is so small that neither the expenditure of the court’s time nor the defendant’s resources are justified in achieving it.


Another Reynolds defence fails: Jameel v Wall Street Journal
The Courts maintain a narrow interpretation of the media privilege defence: Jameel v Wall Street Journal

Bulletins are for general guidance only. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters. Where reference is made to Court decisions facts referred to are those reported as found by the Court. Please note that past bulletins included in the Archive have not been updated by any subsequent changes in statute or case law.