High Court Awards £90,000 in Damages in Defamation Case Against Politicalite Limited & Anor

Citation: [2024] EWHC 543 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

The High Court of Justice King’s Bench Division case of Simon Schofield v Politicalite Limited & Anor delivers a comprehensive analysis of the principles of libel, malicious falsehood, and misuse of private information in the context of online publication and the subsequent reputational harm. The court’s judgment, delivered by The Hon. Mrs. Justice Steyn DBE, focuses on remedies post-default judgment and offers significant insights into the assessment of damages, injunctive relief, and further orders pertinent to the rehabilitation of reputation.

Key Facts

Simon Schofield, a theatrical producer and actor, brought claims for libel, malicious falsehood, and misuse of private information against Politicalite Limited and Jordan Kendall following the publication of an article on Politicalite’s website, which contained unfounded and defamatory assertions implying Schofield’s involvement in child grooming. Despite being served with the claim, the defendants neither filed an acknowledgment of service nor a defense, leading to default judgment for the claimant.

The claim stemmed from the substantial harm caused not just to the claimant’s reputation but also to his professional relationships and emotions, with specific monetary damages detailed stemming from lost business opportunities. Notably, the defendants’ conduct throughout the proceedings—including aggressive responses to legal communications and failure to remove or apologize for the libelous publication—exacerbated the claimant’s distress and harm.

Several critical legal principles were discussed and applied by Justice Steyn in assessing the remedies:

Defamation: The court applied the standards established in Barron v Vines and Sloutsker v Romanova, acknowledging the necessity to compensate for reputation damage, vindicate the claimant’s name, and account for distress caused by defamatory publications. Damages were to be assessed, taking into account the gravity and extent of publication, with an insistence on compensation not exceeding the democratically necessary amount for protection of reputation.

Malicious Falsehood: To assess damages in malicious falsehood, the claimant must prove not only the falsehood of the statements but also the presence of malice and actual pecuniary damage as iterated in the principles outlined in Duncan and Neill on Defamation.

Misuse of Private Information: The assessment of damages in misuse of private information followed the principles outlined in Sicri v Associated Newspapers Ltd, with the aim to compensate for material and non-material damage resulting from the wrong, dictated by factors like the nature of the information, the scope of publication, and the presentation.

Injunctions and Remedies: The court exercised its discretion to grant an injunction, as per the principles of necessity, noting the defendants’ likelihood of republishing the defamatory article. Justice Steyn further ordered the defendants to publish a summary of the judgment to further vindicate the claimant’s reputation pursuant to s.12 of the Defamation Act 2013, stating that this would serve as a measure of repairing the damage to the claimant’s reputation in a manner proportionate to the interference with defendants’ freedom of expression.

Outcomes

The judgment resulted in the following remedies:

  • Damages: A global award of £90,000 to compensate for libel, malicious falsehood, and misuse of private information.
  • Injunction: A permanent injunction to prevent the defendants from further publishing defamatory content about the claimant.
  • Summary of Judgment: An order was made for the defendants to publish a summary of the judgment on their website and social media account.
  • Costs: The defendants were ordered to pay the claimant’s legal costs, which were summarily assessed at £35,000.

Conclusion

In Simon Schofield v Politicalite Limited & Anor, the court robustly applied established legal principles to the assessment of remedies following a default judgment for defamation, malicious falsehood, and misuse of private information. The judgment stands as a testament to the High Court’s commitment to protect individuals’ reputations against unwarranted and harmful publications, offering a measured and thorough approach to the assessment of damages and vindication not just in scope but also in execution—through the requirement for a published summary of the judgment. This decision reinforces the importance of responsibly managing the power of online publications and underscores the severe legal consequences of failure to do so.

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