UK: Libel case ‘not worth the candle’ as banker had already settled case in Portugal

Katrin Welker
The High Court of Justice of England and Wales decided on the 22 January 2016 (Case No: TLJ/15/0654) that there is no need to continue proceedings for defamation if the reputation of the claimant was effectively restored.

An international banker filed a criminal libel claim against a journalist and a photographer as well as the media company they work for. The media company is situated in Portugal and publishes a weekly newspaper printed in Portugal and also owns and maintains websites. The banker filed the libel claim because of an article published in June 2014. The article alleged that the claimant had failed in his governance of the bank and misappropriated millions of dollars. In August 2014, the bank which the claimant was working for collapsed and required a bail out from the central bank in Portugal. This threatened the Portuguese economy and caused huge public concern and anger and was extensively reported on in Portugal.

It was an issue of such importance that the Parliament in Portugal held a Parliamentary inquiry into the causes of the requirement for the bail out. On 18 December 2014 the Claimant gave evidence to the inquiry in the Parliament in Portugal, where he had the chance to make a statement on the accusations. As a result, the public prosecutor in Portugal decided not to pursue the complaint for criminal libel made by the banker, arguing that his reputation was restored due to his statement on the accusations. Therefore, the banker commenced civil proceedings in Portugal and England, where the article in question was published as well. On 30 April 2015 those civil proceedings were discontinued in Portugal, also due to the fact that the Claimant had the possibility to make a statement on the accusations.

Due to these circumstances the High Court of Justice concluded that the pursuit of the proceedings in England “was not worth the candle and is a Jameel abuse of process.” That means that the advantage to be gained from hearing the case would be so slight that it was not worth the time and expense involved to bring it to court, as in the test case Jameel vs Dow Jones 2005.

The banker’s reputation had been so effectively restored by the reporting of the Parliamentary inquiry in Portugal that it was no longer worth the time, effort and expense of pursuing proceedings in Portugal, and because coverage by the Portuguese media is available in England and Wales to about the same extent that the publication of the original article was available in England and Wales. In the Court’s opinion the plaintiff was unable to explain why the restoring of his reputation in Portugal, which had been sufficient to cause him to drop the proceedings in Portugal, had not been sufficient to satisfy him in England and Wales.

Katrin Welker works as a scientific researcher at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.

Read more

The verdict of the High Court of Justice of Wales and England is available here.