Alsaifi v (1) Trinity Mirror Plc and Board of Directors, (2) Newcastle College Group and Board of Governors [2017] EWHC 1444 (QB), Warby J, 13 June 2017

C sued the Ds in libel. This judgment was of two interim applications: an application by D1 for strike out and/or summary judgment, and an application by C for a ruling that the words complained of were capable of bearing the meanings complained of by him, or other meanings defamatory of him.

C had been the subject of an adverse decision by the teaching regulator and a subsequent Prohibition Notice by the Secretary of State. On statutory appeal by C to the Administrative Court, a judge allowed the appeal on the basis that the regulator had no jurisdiction to investigate or recommend any sanction in respect of C, because he was not at any material time teaching in any of the institutions covered by the relevant legislation. The decision was a nullity.

At the time of the original decision D1 had published an online news article about it which included a comment from D2, C’s former employer. D1 later published a second online article, linked to in the first, that reported on the quashing of the Secretary of State’s decision.

In respect of D1’s application, Warby J found the great majority of the article complained of to be privileged by operation of s.15 and Schedule 1 of the Defamation Act 1996. This was a fair and accurate report of the published decision and Notice, made without malice. The brief comment made by D2 included in the article was not privileged (and was not argued as being privileged) but most of it was held inevitably to be found to be honest opinion, the rest of the comment being so trivial that it would be abusive to pursue a claim in respect of it. Summary judgment for D1 was granted on the issues of privilege and honest opinion, and any residual claim dismissed as an abuse.

As to C’s application in respect of D1, the judge concluded that the words complained of were incapable of bearing the vast majority of the meanings complained of by C but were capable of bearing meanings defamatory of him. However, this was academic because summary judgment had been granted on D1’s application.
The words complained of against D2 were held capable of bearing defamatory meanings about C, the progress of that claim remaining to be seen.