High Court Grants Summary Judgment in Defamation and Malicious Falsehood Case

Citation: [2024] EWHC 647 (KB)
Judgment on


In the case of Frank Sinton v Maybourne Hotels Limited & Ors, the High Court of Justice delivered a summary judgment pertaining to a claim involving allegations of libel, malicious falsehood, and data protection breaches. The core legal issues deliberated in this case include summary judgment, serious harm requirement under the Defamation Act 2013, application of qualified privilege, the standard for proving malice, and the principles governing the tort of malicious falsehood. This article meticulously analyzes the judgment and the application of legal principles that led to the dismissal of the libel and malicious falsehood claims.

Key Facts

Frank Sinton, a project manager at major construction projects for luxury hotels, was banned from various sites pending an investigation into alleged inappropriate conduct towards other workers. Subsequently, Sinton brought claims in libel, malicious falsehood, and for breach of data protection law against Maybourne Hotels Limited and its directors. The crux of the libel and malicious falsehood claims centered on the publications that followed the defendants’ suspension of his site access. The defendants applied for summary judgment or alternatively to strike out the claims, arguing there was no real prospect of success and that the claims constituted an abuse of process.

Summary Judgment

Courts follow the principles articulated in Easyair Ltd v Opal Telecom, which direct that a claim has a realistic prospect of success if it is more than merely arguable. Avoiding a ‘mini-trial’, the court must consider the evidence that could reasonably be expected at trial. The judgment referenced Lungowe v Vedanta Resources plc, emphasizing that a claimant cannot rely on eventualities but must show concrete reasons to believe additional evidence at trial would alter the case’s outcome.

Serious Harm

Per section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013, a claimant in a defamation case must prove that the statement caused or was likely to cause serious harm to their reputation. In Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd, the Supreme Court stated that this involves both the inherent tendency of the words and their actual impact on those to whom they were communicated.

Qualified Privilege

In defamation cases, the common law defense of qualified privilege protects certain communications if the publisher has an interest or duty to make the communication to the recipient, who has a corresponding interest or duty to receive it, as per Hunt v Great Northern Railway Co. The claim must establish that the publication was not protected by qualified privilege and must prove malice to defeat this defense.


Malice, for both defamation and malicious falsehood claims, refers to circumstances where the publisher knew the statement was false, was reckless as to its truth, or had a dominant improper motive in publication. The court highlighted that malice allegations must be pleaded specifically and provide evidence that suggests a dishonest state of mind.

Malicious Falsehood

The tort of malicious falsehood requires a claimant to prove the statement’s falsity, publication with malice, and resultant damage. Unlike defamation, malicious falsehood is not subject to the serious harm threshold, but damages are necessary for the claim to succeed.


The court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the defamation and malicious falsehood claims. It held that they had established that the publications were made on occasions of qualified privilege, that no malice could be proven, and that there was no real prospect of the claimant succeeding in proving the necessary elements of his claims.


This case underscores the stringent threshold for claimants in defamation and malicious falsehood actions, highlighting the need for concrete evidence establishing serious harm and malice. The application of summary judgment principles and understanding the protections offered by qualified privilege are essential for legal professionals navigating similar claims. The court’s meticulous analysis demonstrated that speculative assertions of malice unsupported by substantial evidence cannot withstand a summary judgment application, thus providing clarity on the rigorous standards required for advancing defamation and malicious falsehood claims through to trial in the UK judicial system.