We represent both claimants and defendants in defamation actions, including online defamation claims. At its core, defamation (whether libel or slander) occurs when someone publishes a statement about an individual that has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to reputation. The reference to ‘serious harm’ in the definition of defamation is known as the ‘section 1’ hurdle, coming as it does from Section 1 of the Defamation Act, 2013. But even before the 2013 Act, the courts had developed a body of case law, enabling judges to strike out defamation claims they viewed as so trivial as to amount to an abuse of process. It’s useful to look back at the most relevant case – Jameel Yousef v Dow Jones & Co. Inc.  – to see how the courts decide what amounts to an abuse of process in defamation claims.
The Jameel jurisdiction applies in cases where the court believes the relief sought by the claimant doesn’t justify the costs to all parties of running the case. The Jameel case was groundbreaking because it was the first time the courts rejected a defamation claim on the basis that – despite having merits –the claim represented an abuse of process. When it came down to it the claimant had very little at stake.
Briefly, the facts of the case were as follows:
The defendant, Dow Jones published an article in the online version of the Wall Street Journal with a link to a list of names of the so-called “Golden Chain” – 20 Saudi nationals who had allegedly financed Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The list contained the name of the claimant, Jameel Yousef. Jameel’s request that the article be removed was rejected, and he issued a claim against Dow Jones.
Despite succeeding in a number of preliminary claims, Jameel’s claim was ultimately rejected by the Court of Appeal. Crucially there was evidence to the effect that only five people in England and Wales had accessed the allegedly defamatory online article. In the court’s view, this couldn’t amount to a substantial defamation against Jameel. The claim couldn’t succeed.
In reaching its decision the court found that no significant damage had been done to Jameel. It concluded that, if the case continued, the number of damages and vindication Jameel would receive would be so negligible that it would not justify the cost to all the parties involved in this claim.
In fact, enabling Jameel to pursue his action would amount to an abuse of process and a waste of valuable court resources, including important judge and jury time.
There’s a clear interplay between the decision in Jameel and the serious harm test in the Defamation Act, 2013. In several cases since the 2013 Act, the courts have reiterated that the principle set out in Jameel – that a serious or substantial defamation must have occurred – is still relevant.
In effect Section 1 of the Defamation Act bolsters the Jameel Jurisdiction. It raises the bar, allowing only those defamation claims where statements cause serious harm to the claimant’s reputation to succeed. It’s no surprise that when introduced in 2013 the Act was seen as targeting the growth in what were viewed as trivial defamation claims.
In Jameel, the judges felt it would be an abuse of process to devote court time to an action where “so little is now seen to be at stake”. They introduced a seriousness threshold that any damage to a person’s reputation must pass before a defamation action could succeed.
In practice, when considering the strength of any defamation claim it’s essential to consider:
If you believe you are involved in a defamation matter that could be considered an abuse of the court’s process and wish to discuss it, please contact Nath Solicitors on 44 (0) 203 670 5540 or contact the firm online.
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