Proceedings have finally drawn to a close in the case of ZAM v CFW & TFW, which involved a financier who claimed to have been libelled by his sister-in-law (the first defendant) and her husband (the second defendant).

The claim centred on the second defendant who had threatened to tell and then did tell various people connected to the claimant (including his employer and a school's board of governors which he chaired) that the claimant had stolen money from a family trust and was a paedophile. The second defendant has at no stage sought to justify these allegations, which were made with the sole aim of blackmailing and extorting money from the claimant.

The history of the case is somewhat convoluted:

  • Interim injunctions were granted on 25 February 2011 and 3 March 2011, the terms of which included anonymity for the claimant (see [2011] EWHC 476 (QB))
  • Summary judgment on liability was granted against the second defendant on 30 July 2012
  • Judgment on liability against the first defendant was entered by consent on 7 March 2013

The recent final hearing dealt with a number of outstanding issues, including whether the claimant was entitled to anonymity on a permanent basis.

Continuing his reasoning from the interim injunctions decision, Mr Justice Tugendhat concluded that, as a matter of principle, there was no reason why anonymity should not be granted in defamation claims in certain circumstances. The second defendant in this case was clearly attempting to blackmail the claimant. He had also breached the interim injunctions by publishing the false allegations about the claimant on the internet and it appeared likely that he would use any judgment naming the claimant as further ammunition in his abusive campaign. In light of these factors, the judge felt that permanent anonymity was justified, concluding that:

"The court must adapt its procedures to ensure it does not provide encouragement or assistance to blackmailers, and does not deter victims of blackmail from seeking justice from the court"

While this decision is certainly interesting, the judge recognised that anonymity orders in defamation proceedings will be rare. For a start, it is generally the case that a successful claimant will want their name to be published so that they can obtain proper vindication. Furthermore, the order in this case was mainly justified by the blackmail element – generally speaking, blackmailers look to put pressure on their victims by threatening to reveal true but embarrassing/incriminating information. As such information is usually true, no protection will be afforded to the claimant in defamation (instead they might well pursue a breach of confidence/privacy claim).

The judge also assessed damages against the second defendant, awarding £100,000 for the injury to the claimant's reputation and a further £20,000 for the distress and harassment suffered.

The judgment, which can be found here [2013] EWHC 662 (QB), also contains some interesting discussion of whether and how a claimant can rely on publications not originally pleaded in the particulars of claim (in this case, the internet publications made in breach of the interim injunctions).