High Court Refuses to Strike Out Defense of Truth in Defamation Case against Italian Businessman

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3029 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Raffaele Mincione v Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SpA, the High Court of Justice examined a strike-out application against a defense of truth under section 2 of the Defamation Act 2013. This article analyzes the judgment and the legal principles applied during the proceedings. It aims to elucidate on the reasoning behind the court’s refusal to strike out the defense.

Key Facts

Raffaele Mincione, the claimant, is an Italian businessman with two decades of experience in finance. He sued Gedi Gruppo Editoriale SpA, an Italian company that publishes newspapers and magazines, for libel concerning four articles and two videos that implied he played a leading role in the corrupt exploitation of the Vatican’s assets. Mincione sought damages for libel, and the publications in question remained accessible online from England and Wales.

Gedi Gruppo asserted a defense of truth under section 2 of the Defamation Act 2013, which Mr. Mincione sought to strike out. The defense hinged on three main assertions: Mincione’s “close control” of entities involved in misrepresenting investments to the Vatican, Mincione’s knowledge and approval of said misrepresentations, and his involvement in a criminal conspiracy.

In assessing the application to strike out the defense, the Court applied several key legal principles:

  • CPR Rule 3.4(2): Under this rule, the court may strike out a defense if it discloses no reasonable grounds for defending the claim, constitutes an abuse of process, or results from a failure to comply with court rules. The judge must be “certain” that the defense is bound to fail to strike under this rule.

  • Defamation Act 2013 (Section 2): Provides a defense to an action for defamation if the imputation conveyed by the statement is shown to be substantially true.

  • Pleading Requirements and Particulars of Truth: Detailed in CPR Practice Direction (PD) 53B, requiring defendants to specify the imputation they contend is true and provide substantive details supporting that contention without excess or irrelevant detail.

  • Chase Levels of Meaning: A framework for determining the intensity of suspicion cast by defamatory statements, ranging from positive assertions of misconduct to reasonable grounds for suspicion or merely grounds for investigation.

The court emphasized that a literal interpretation should not distract from the core sting of the libel, and not every single detail must be proved if it is not essential to the central allegation. Furthermore, when justifying a level 2 meaning (reasonable grounds for suspecting), defendants need to plead and prove primary facts deducing suspicion without shifting the burden to claimants to disprove allegations.

Outcomes

The High Court came to the following conclusions:

  • Pillars of Defense: The Court recognized that the defense was organized around three “pillars,” all of which intertwine and cannot be viewed in isolation. These formed part of a greater narrative that suggested reasonable grounds for suspecting Mincione’s involvement in alleged criminal activities.

  • Application Refused: The Court found that Gedi Gruppo’s defense detailed sufficiently pertinent and substantial facts, including the conduct of other conspirators, to suggest the substantial truth of the defamatory imputations without shifting the burden of proof inappropriately. Consequently, the strike-out application was refused, acknowledging that proving the substantial truth of the imputations at trial is a substantial burden for Gedi Gruppo to overcome.

Conclusion

The case underscores the High Court’s reluctance to strike out defenses of truth on the basis of section 2 of the Defamation Act 2013 without compelling evidence that the defense would ultimately fail. The judgment reaffirms the importance of allowing factual matters to be settled at trial and recognizes the complexity involved in pleading and proving conspiracies within defamation cases._spell

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