Internet libel

Lonzim v Sprague [2009] EWHC 2838

There has been much discussion of late about the High Court’s approach to libel and, in particular, the question of when the High Court is found to have jurisdiction regarding Internet publications. This case is a rare example of the court being prepared to find the criteria for abuse of process man as set down in Jameel ([2005] QB 946) satisfied.

The case concerned a company in the Isle of Man and two individual executive directors of that companywho brought a claim against a director of a company which owned a substantial shareholding in the Isle of Man company. The case was based on statements made by the defendant in the company’s AGM and subsequently in statements to a journalist, which were then published in an article written by that journalist and published online by the South African journal. although leave to serve out of the jurisdiction had been granted, the defendant applied to strike out the whole action as an abuse of process on the basis that the claimants had very little prospect of establishing any real damage direct tensions in the jurisdiction. With regard to the libel claim relating to the Internet publication, the court held that the evidence adduced by the claimants suggested, at the best, only minimal publication of the offending words in this jurisdiction. Certainly, there was no evidence of any real substantial court having been committed in England and Wales. Further, damages would at most be minimal and was no prospect of an injunction being granted. The costs that would be incurred by trial and the use of court time would therefore be disproportionate.

In passing, the court noted that the claimants had pointed out that the offending material remained on the Internet. The court concluded that the question of whether an interviewee “remains liable to every republication of his words on the Internet indefinitely after he has given an interview to a journalist, is a question which may arise in another case” (para 44). Given the ease with which material on the Internet can be copied and disseminated together with the comparative lack of control over this process that the original author may have,this is a significant question which remains open.

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