Sandy Lane Hotel Limited v Times Newspapers Limited, Zoe Brennan and Wendy Leigh

The luxury Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados has been engaged in a libel action with Times Newspapers Limited over an article published in March 1998. However, some time into the case it was noticed that proceedings had been initiated in the name of Sandy Lane Hotel Ltd instead of Sandy Lane Hotel Co Ltd. The Hotel applied to amend this error but the application was resisted by the Defendants’ lawyers who claimed that the change of name would constitute an entirely new and different party to the action. If the Defendants were successful in this argument before the court, the Hotel’s case would effectively be statute barred, as the limitation period of six years had by this time elapsed.

Johnson J in Dublin’s High Court ruled that the newspaper had always been aware that the party taking the defamation action was the owner of the Sandy Lane Hotel, and he granted the Plaintiff’s application and amended the name of the Plaintiff under a rule which allows for “the correction of clerical errors or errors in the names of parties in any proceeding”.

The newspaper appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. Hardiman J in the Supreme Court stated that the mistake was “not one which can be described as a clerical error, or anything like it”. He said he had little sympathy for the businessmen who had the benefit of the best legal and taxation advice available. He refused the relief sought by the Plaintiff and granted the newspaper’s appeal against the name change.

The Plaintiff then made a subsequent application to the High Court under a different rule which allows the court to amend the name of a party to proceedings where it is satisfied that the matter has been commenced through a “bona fide mistake”, and that it is “necessary for the determination of the real matter in dispute so to do”. Counsel for the Hotel stated that there was a genuine mistake as to the name of the intended Plaintiff, but that the newspaper had always acted on the basis that it was being sued by the entity which owned and operated the Sandy Lane Hotel.

Kearns J said the proceedings had been commenced in the name of the wrong Plaintiff, but he was satisfied that was a bona fide mistake, and that the change of name was “necessary for the determination of the real matter in dispute”. He said the newspaper would suffer no prejudice or injustice if he granted the Hotel’s application.