​Relief for Defamation only available when action started where injured party has its “centre of interests”

The term "defamation" concerns the publication of material that adversely affects a person's reputation.  Whilst there is no single, definitive judicial interpretation of what constitutes a defamatory statement it is commonly assessed by a consideration as to whether the statement lowers the estimation of the claimant in a right-minded member of society. 

In Saïd v Groupe L Express & Anor [2018] EWHC 3593 (QB) (21 December 2018) the defendants were the publishers and editors of a french magazine that had a small print circulation in England and Wales and published articles on its own website.  The Claimant, whilst living in Monaco, had strong business, charitable and family connections in England.

In 2018 the magazine printed an article alleging that the claimant was involved in improper dealings with Syria.  The claimant claimed that the article had seriously damaged his reputation and caused financial repercussions to him.  He sought damages and injunctions against future publication through the courts of England and Wales.

A previous decision of the ECJ in 2017 (Bolagsupplysningen OÜ and another v Svensk Handel AB, Case C-194/16, EU:C:2017:766) designed to prevent the possibility of claimants issuing multiple proceedings in different countries,  meant that an action for online defamation can only be brought in one EU member state and jurisdiction lies either where the defendant is domiciled or where the harm occurred - being where the claimant has its centre of interests.  The general principle is that a person’s centre of interests is their place of habitual residence.

In this case, the application for an injunction would only be successful if the claimant could displace the general principle and meet the jurisdictional requirement of establishing that England and Wales was his centre of interests.  The fact that England was an important personal, family and business hub was not enough in this case and the high court found that the claimant did not have a good arguable case for restraining the magazine from publishing an article about him online in England and Wales.

This case is a reminder to anyone who wishes to allege defamation in relation to material published online to ensure they issue proceedings in the correct forum to protect themselves and their reputation.

Posted on 5 February, 2019 by Ortolan

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