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Taking liberties

The High Court has struck out the recent libel case of Liberty Fashion Wears Ltd –v- Primark Stores Ltd & others as an abuse of process. The Claimant sought damages in respect of the Defendant’s press release which raised concerns over the Bangladeshi-based Claimant’s building safety record.

Defamation claims can be difficult to prove as the law provides that a statement can only be found defamatory if its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of a Claimant. For a Claimant that trades, “serious harm” equates to proving serious financial loss.

The case was brought before the Courts as a libel matter (the written form of defamation) however the matter has its roots in the Rana Plaza factory disaster in which over 1000 people were killed in April 2013 in Bangladesh. The factory was operational and used for the production of garments bought by various retailers in the UK.

Following on from this disaster various retailers sought to improve safety standards for garment workers in Bangladesh, and Primark and a number of other UK retailers formed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (‘the Accord’). On inspection, one of the Claimant’s buildings was found to be structurally unsafe and an immediate evacuation was requested. The Claimant refused the request.

Over a number of months the Accord attempted to negotiate with the Claimant in respect of making alterations to the building and offered both financial and technical assistance in order to make the necessary repairs. However the Claimant would not engage with any meaningful negotiations and the necessary repairs to the building were not made. Reluctantly the Defendant ceased trading with the Claimant.

The Defendant issued a press release outlining its position in June 2013 and, together with other retailers, later published a similar statement on a website in October 2013. The Claimant claimed that both were defamatory.

The Judge held that the Claimant’s case for libel was an abuse of process and on that basis ought to be struck out. A significant issue was the fact that the Claimant had only complained about these statements over a year since their publication. He stated that a Claimant who was genuinely concerned would have moved more swiftly to vindicate their name.

Further, the Claimant’s claim was limited to publication within the jurisdiction and there was no suggestion in their claim that they had any reputation, substantial or otherwise, within the jurisdiction. Alongside this, the Judge found that the statements had not been widely viewed therefore any reputation that did exist within the jurisdiction would not have been greatly affected by such small numbers having viewed the statement.

The Judge also found that the likely time and cost of litigating the claim were hugely disproportionate to the likely amount of damages which the Claimant would, if successful, be awarded.

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Luke Patel

Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution
Commercial Dispute Resolution
0113 227 9316
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Luke Patel Blacks Solicitors LLP