Dow Jones & Co. Inc. v. Yousef Abdul Latif Jameel

Raj PagariyaCase Summary

Is an online defamation claim with minimal impact on the claimant's reputation abuse of process?

Dow Jones & Co. Inc. v. Yousef Abdul Latif Jameel
[2005] EWCA Civ 75
In the Court of Appeal (Civil Appeals Division)
Case A2/2004/1540
Before Lord Justice Phillips MR, Lord Justice Sedley, and Lord Justice Parker
Decided on February 03, 2005

Relevancy of the Case: Is an online defamation claim with minimal impact on the claimant’s reputation abuse of process?

Statutes and Provisions Involved

  • The European Convention of Human Rights (Article 10)

Relevant Facts of the Case

  • The appellant, Dow Jones, is the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, both in print and online.
  • On March 18, 2003, the journal published an article discussing the Golden Chain. This was a list of 20 Saudi nationals who financed Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. This article contained a hyperlink leading to the list of these donors. The respondent was one of these 20 nationals named in this article.
  • On April 15, 2003, the respondent wrote to Dow Jones requesting the removal of the article. However, Dow Jones rejected this request.
  • He issued a Claim Form on July 18, 2003, and the court, at first instance, granted him permission to serve out of jurisdiction in New York.
  • The appellant did not challenge the English jurisdiction. It submitted that its subscriber base in English jurisdiction is only 6000.
  • However, the respondent was successful in his application to strike four paragraphs. This resulted in four interlocutory rulings in his favour. The appellant has appealed against these rulings before the Court of Appeal.

Prominent Arguments by the Counsels

The appellant’s counsel:

  • He argued that holding a publisher liable without demonstrating that the publication caused damage is an unjustified interference with freedom of expression. However, he conceded that the presumption of damages would not make a difference in most cases concerning media publications. However, he contended that presumption was determinant in this case as only five persons in the UK had accessed the publication. Out of these persons, 3 worked for the claimant.
  • The claimant had no real prospect of establishing that readers in English would have understood that the article referred to him. This is based on the fact that the names Yousif and Jameel are prevalent Muslim names.
  • Publication in the jurisdiction had been minimal and did not significantly damage the claimant’s reputation.

The respondent/claimant’s counsel:

  • He defended the presumption of damage on pragmatic grounds. He accepted that the appellant might have succeeded if it had challenged jurisdiction earlier. However, Dow Jones initially submitted to the jurisdiction. It was too late for the appellant to argue that no substantial tort had occurred. His main concern was to achieve vindication, which is considered a legitimate reason for bringing a defamation claim under English laws.

Opinion of the Bench

  • An irrefutable presumption of damage existed under English law before 2000. The publication of defamatory law carries a presumption that the person defamed has suffered damage. This presumption does not require a person to prove that a reader knowing them has read the article.
  • There will be fewer cases where a claimant launches defamatory proceedings regarding limited circulation with no damage to his reputation. However, such suits may constitute unjustified interference with freedom of expression.
  • The mere inclusion of the name will not suffice to identify any individual who bears the name. However, the claimant was the only Saudi national who was wealthy enough in 1988 to feature on that list. Therefore, the appellant’s argument on this issue was rejected.
  • The court rejected the claimant’s argument on the appellant’s failure to timely challenge English jurisdiction. An abuse of process is of concern not only to the parties but to the court.
  • It was not legitimate for the claimant to seek to justify the pursuit of these proceedings by praying the effect they may have in vindicating him.
  • It would be an abuse of process to continue this case and utilise the resources of English Courts to an action where so little is now seen to be at stake.
  • There is no likelihood that the appellant would republish the article in its original form.

Final Decision

  • The court allowed the appeal on the grounds of no substantial tort within the jurisdiction and abuse of process. Further, the court ordered a stay of the proceedings.