The High Court in London has recently sent a clear message in two cases discouraging “libel tourists” from commencing defamation proceedings in England and Wales. In recent years, defamation law in England and Wales has been perceived as being generally more favourable to claimants than to defendants, compared with the law in other countries. Some have suggested that this has resulted in cases being filed in London which have a tenuous link with this jurisdiction.
These latest decisions discouraging “libel tourism” resonate with measures due to be introduced later this year when the Defamation Act 2013 is brought into force (see our earlier blog).
In the first decision, a Serbian national resident in Switzerland had sued a Montenegrin national living in Croatia. According to the judgment both parties had accused each other of “very serious criminal wrongdoing”, and each had denied the allegations facing them. The proceedings brought in England related to comments made in Balkan language newspapers, said to have hard copy circulation in England and Wales, as well as in certain internet publications.
In the second case, the claimant was a former Russian police officer who had brought proceedings against a British based hedge fund owner and associated companies. The defamation proceedings related to assertions made by the defendants as part of a campaign concerning an alleged substantial tax fraud in Russia, and the circumstances surrounding the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison. The assertions were made in videos on the internet and in a BBC interview.
In both cases, on the facts the court held that there was insufficient connection with England and Wales to allow the claims to proceed. It is to be expected that the courts will take a similarly robust approach once the Defamation Act 2013 is brought into effect. The exact date for the Act coming into force has yet to be confirmed by the Government, though it has previously indicated that the Act would be in force by the end of 2013.