An attempt to sue a Ukrainian newspaper for libel in London has been refused in the Royal Courts of Justice today.
Master Leslie allowed an appeal of the libel action against Public Media, publishers of the Kyiv Post. He declined to accept jurisdiction in the UK, saying that the claimant, Mr Firtash, had no substantial connection to the country.
“The claim form and service thereof shall be set aside and proceedings dismissed and declared that [the] court will not exercise any jurisdiction to try this claim,” he said.
Whereas Boris Berezovsky’s libel case had shown “real and substantial connections with this country” he saw “no such evidence in this case”.
While Master Leslie recognised the claimant’s right to access to justice, he said it had no place in the English courts and that the connections were “tenuous in the extreme”.
Firtash had no residence in the country, no active business pursuits and had “erroneously” cited a business colleague’s Knightsbridge address for the claim.
Leslie had seen no evidence to show his property or shares in this country, or information about the frequency of his visits to this country.
“There’s no evidence before me to show that there is any such business interest or floatation being planned,” he said. It was not, but “almost” an abuse of process, he said.
The defendant lawyer suggested the article had only been viewed 21 times from the UK. While Leslie refused to “play the numbers game” when assessing the extent of internet publication, he said “it was plain it [publication] was limited”.
Index on Censorship and the Libel Reform campaign welcomed today’s decision. Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, said:
“This is obviously good news for free speech, but the libel chill still remains. This phenomenon of libel tourism is a form of legal harassment, which discourages responsible investigative journalists from speaking the truth to power.
“This is not a problem we can fix by tinkering with legal procedures: Parliament needs to overhaul our the entire system.”
Late last year, following the dispute, the Kyiv Post blocked all access to UK internet users to its website, “in protest of the draconian libel laws there that hinder legitimate free speech and threaten the work of independent journalists, authors, scientists and others worldwide.”