Lee Johnson v Ministry of Justice, QBD, 27 January 2016

Lee Johnson v Ministry of Justice, QBD, 27 January 2016.

 

Senior Master Fontaine handed down judgment in Lee Johnson v Ministry of Justice. The unusual facts of the case involved the publication by the Defendant that Mr Johnson was subject to a General Civil Restraint Order. This information was included on a national database published by HM Courts & Tribunals Service. The publication spanned the enactment of the Defamation Act 2013. The information was incorrect as Mr Johnson was subject to a limited, not a general, civil restraint order. As a result of the Defendant’s error, when the Claimant sought to bring a claim in libel he was restrained from doing so. Upon the error being corrected and the Claimant being permitted to proceed with his claim, the Defendant applied to strike out the action. The Defendant relied on Jameel abuse concerning the extent of the publication, that the alleged libel did not meet the requisite standard of harm and that the Defendant was otherwise availed of a defence of qualified privilege. In determining the application, the Senior Master found Jameel abuse did not apply on the Claimant’s evidence regarding the number of publishees and that the Defendant public body was not able to show that its breach of the Claimant’s Article 8 right was proportionate under Article 8(2) per Clift v Slough Borough Council  [2011] 1 W.L.R. 1774. However, regarding the requisite standard of harm, it was held that the publication was not defamatory either under the common law (Thornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd [2011] 1 WLR 1985) or s.1(1) of the 2013 Act. The claim was accordingly struck out. However, Mr Johnson was granted permission to appeal regarding the relevant standard of harm under the old common law compared to the new statutory position. The Defendant was granted permission to cross-appeal regarding abuse of process concerning the extent of the publication. David Mitchell represented the Government Legal Department on behalf of the Ministry of Justice.  

18 May 2016: Mr Johnson’s appeal regarding publication prior to the enactment of the Defamation Act 2013 has been allowed. Mr Johnson was ordered to pay the Ministry of Justice's costs of the strike out application and appeal.