Drafting Defamation Particulars of Claim

In the case of Wissa v Associated Newspapers Ltd [2014] EWHC 1518 (QB) the exact words must be quoted verbatim when drafting defamation particulars of claim. The case concerned a URL which is a specific address on the internet used by a person to access the particular site they wish to view.

The Claimant, instead of putting the exact wording complained of in his defamation proceedings only made reference in his particulars of claim to the URL which he said held all the words which were the subject of the defamation proceedings

The Defendant made an application for the claim to be struck out, as by making reference to the words in the URL, the Claimant had not adequately described in full detail the exact words which they complained were libelous.

The Judge held that the URL did not wholly identify the words complained of as there was more than one account of the story appearing on that day and it was unclear exactly what the offending words were, from what had been published. The page had already been taken down following a complaint by a Dr Ogunsanya.

In a libel claim the publication must be identified and the claimant must specify in the particulars of claim, the defamatory meaning which it is alleged that the words or matters complained of conveyed as to their natural and ordinary meaning.

The Judge referring to the case of Best v Charter Medical of England Limited (2001) and  CPR 16.4 and PD 53 ruled that it was vital that the exact wording complained are quoted in the defamation proceedings,verbatim.

The action was struck out. The Defendant must be able to defend the claim against them. They have to know exactly what words were allegedly used by them for the Claimant to bring the action in the first instance and thereafter be able to prepare their defence.

As the Claimant had not established which story he was referring to and which formed the basis of his libel action, the Judge found that the words could not be sufficiently identified to be the subject of the proceedings.

The Claimant had been given plenty of opportunities to put his case in order but had failed to do so.

The overall conclusion to this case is that, particularly on the internet where websites and pages are continuously rewritten and added to, the Claimant has to quote the word in his defamation particulars of claim that form the basis of his action as they are written, making reference to which story and at what time they appeared, so as to accurately pinpoint the offending words in order to bring his claim.


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