Jameel and another v Wall Street Journal Europe

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLord Justice Simon Brown,Lord Justice Mummery,Lord Justice Mance
Judgment Date03 February 2005
Neutral Citation[2003] EWCA Civ 1694,[2005] EWCA Civ 74
Docket NumberCase No: A2/2003/2250/QBENF,Case No: A2/2004/0221 & A2/2004/0221/Z
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date03 February 2005
Between
(1) Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel
(2) Abdul Latif Jameel Company Limited
Respondents
and
The Wall Street Journal Europe Sprl
Appellant

[2003] EWCA Civ 1694

Before:

Lord Justice Simon Brown

Lord Justice Mummery and

Lord Justice Mance

Case No: A2/2003/2250/QBENF

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE

COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)

ON APPEAL FROM THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

(Mr Justice Eady)

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand,

London, WC2A 2LL

Geoffrey Robertson Esq, QC & Ms Catrin Evans (instructed by Messrs Finers Stephens Innocent) for the Appellant)

James Price Esq, QC & Justin Rushbrooke Esq (instructed by Messrs Peter Carter-Ruck) for the Respondents

Lord Justice Simon Brown
1

This is the defendant publisher's interlocutory appeal against two rulings made by Eady J on 7 October 2003 at a pre-trial review in a libel action, respectively as to the meaning of the words complained of and as to the admissibility and relevance of certain hearsay evidence. The trial, I may say, is fixed for a three week hearing starting on 1 December 2003. I myself gave permission to appeal on the documents on 24 October, albeit "with some considerable hesitation" and recognising the logistical inconvenience of such an appeal. I was, however, "persuaded that a genuine issue of principle arises in respect of each of the two rulings". We heard the appeal on 19 November. For obvious reasons it has been necessary to produce our judgments with some speed. In these circumstances I have taken the unusual course of incorporating within my own judgment the entirety of the (comparatively short) judgment below.

2

First, however, it is necessary to set out the most directly relevant parts of the article of which the respondents complain in this action (with paragraph numbers added for convenience), an article published by the appellant on 6 February 2002 in The Wall Street Journal Europe, under the headline "Saudi Officials Monitor Certain Bank Accounts" and the sub-headline "Focus is on those with Potential Terrorist Ties". Paragraphs 1 to 3 and the first part of paragraph 4 of the article appear under those headlines on the front page; the rest of the article appears on page 4 under the further headline "Certain Saudi Bank Accounts Are Being Closely Monitored". The body of the article reads:

"1. RIYADH, Saudi Arabia —The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, the kingdom's central bank, is monitoring at the request of US law enforcement agencies the bank accounts associated with some of the country's most prominent business-men in a bid to prevent them from being used wittingly or unwittingly for the funnelling of funds to terrorist organisations, according to US officials and Saudis familiar with the issue.

2. The accounts —belonging to Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, headed by Saleh Abdulaziz al Rajhi; Al Rajhi Commercial Foreign Exchange, which isn't connected to Al Rajhi Banking; Islamic banking conglomerate Dallah Al Baraka Group, with $7 billion (€8.05 billion) in assets and whose chairman is Sheik Saleh Kamel; the Bin Mahfouz family, separate members of which own National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia's largest bank and the Saudi Economic Development Co; and the Abdullatif Jamil Group of companies —are among 150 accounts being monitored by SAMA, said the Saudis and the US officials based in Riyadh.

3. The US officials said the US presented the names of the accounts to Saudi Arabia since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in America. They said four Saudi charities and eight businesses were also among 140 world-wide names given to Saudi Arabia last month.

4. The US officials said the US had agreed not to publish the names of Saudi institutions and individuals provided that Saudi authorities took appropriate action. Many of the Saudi accounts on the US list belong to legitimate entities and businessmen who may in the past have had an association with institutions suspected of links to terrorism, the officials said. The officials said similar agreements had been reached with authorities in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. 'This arrangement sends out a warning to people', a US official said.

5. SAMA couldn't be reached for comment. In a recent report to the United Nations about combating terrorism, however, the Saudi government said: 'The Kingdom took many urgent executive steps, amongst which SAMA sent a circular to all Saudi banks to uncover whether those listed in suspect lists have any real connection with terrorism'.

6. Saudi Arabia has frozen the accounts of several businessmen suspected by the US of having funded terrorist organisations, including those of Jidda-based Yassin al Qadi. Among the bin Mahfouz family, Abdulrahman bin Mahfouz was a member of Muwafaq, a defunct Jersey-registered charity in the UK headed by Mr Qadi. Mr Qadi is publicly listed by the US as being associated with terrorism.

11. The US officials said that the accounts of Al Rajhi Banking and Al Rajhi Commercial Foreign Exchange were being monitored because of suspected associations of the companies in the past. A spokesman for Al Rajhi Banking, Ahmed Suleiman Ahmed, said, 'We maintain that our names have not come up nor have names of members of the [Al Rajhi] family.'

12. Mohammed al Rajhi, a spokesman for Al Rajhi Commercial Foreign Exchange, said he wasn't aware of any monitoring of the company's accounts by SAMA.

13. The Abdullatif Jamil Group of companies couldn't be reached for comment.

14. The US officials said Dallah Al Baraka had been targeted because of investments it had in the Al Aqsa Bank, in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, Baraka Exchange LLC in Somalia and Al Taqwa, a finance company in Switzerland —three organisations publicly listed by the US as being as having [sic] terrorist links."

3

The respondents contend that those words mean that they were reasonably suspected of having terrorist ties and of funnelling funds to terrorist organisations. The appellant disputes that the words are defamatory of the respondents at all, alternatively it contends for a lesser defamatory meaning. In any event it contends that the words were published on an occasion of qualified privilege. There is no plea of justification.

4

Eady J's judgment below reads:

"1. Following the pre-trial review in this libel action which is due to be tried in December, I am now required to rule on two outstanding matters, namely, (1) an issue of meaning and (2) questions on the admissibility and relevance of eleven witness statements served on the Claimants' behalf, and accompanied by Civil Evidence Act notices in May of this year.

2. The claim is founded upon an article appearing in the Wall St. Journal (Europe) for 6 February, 2002 entitled 'Saudi Officials Monitor Certain Bank Accounts. Focus Is On Those With Potential Terrorist Ties'. I am told that there is a readership of the order approximately of 90,000 in this jurisdiction. The author is Mr. James Dorsey. As it happens, it is the same article which forms the subject matter of the claim by the Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corporation and has received detailed consideration in two earlier judgments in those proceedings (see [2003] EWHC 1358 (QB) and [2003] EWHC 1776 (QB), handed down respectively on 12 June and 21 July, 2003).

3. This claim is brought by Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, the First Claimant, and Abdul Latif Jameel Co. Ltd., the Second Claimant, who allege that they are referred to in, or identifiable from, the article, which is a matter of dispute, and that the words bear the following defamatory imputation: 'In their natural and ordinary meaning, and in the context in which they appeared, including the headlines on the front page and page 4, the said words meant, and were understood to mean, that the Claimants were reasonably suspected of having terrorist ties and of funnelling funds to terrorist organisations, and had therefore been included on a list of bank accounts which were required by the US law enforcement agencies to be closely monitored by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority'.

4. In the Al Rajhi case, much attention was focused on the pleaded meanings, and especially upon various formulations of Lucas-Box meanings which the Defendants wished to justify. In this case, Mr. James Price QC for the present Claimants has referred to my earlier judgment of 21 July, and submitted that the position is analogous. Nevertheless, I must not forget that this is a different claim between different parties.

5. The present application is somewhat unusual in that both parties are inviting me to "delimit" the possible meanings in advance of the trial, to borrow a phrase from the judgment of Hirst, LJ in Mapp -v—News Group Newspapers Ltd. [1998] Q.B. 520. What is unusual is that the invitation comes in advance of trial and when there is (a) no suggestion that the article was incapable of bearing the Claimants' meaning, set out above, and (b) no plea of justification on the record, and thus no Lucas-Box meanings to be considered.

6. Mr. Robertson Q.C., appearing for the Defendants, as he did in Al Rajhi, submits that the words are capable of a lesser defamatory meaning than that contended for by the Claimants (assuming, of course, that the Claimants are able to establish that the words did indeed refer to them).

7. Mr. Price argues that, as I held in Al Rajhi, the words are only capable of conveying that there are "reasonable grounds to suspect" the Claimants of having terrorist ties and of funnelling funds to terrorist organisations. Mr. Robertson argues that there is room here for the lowest of the three tiers of gravity identified by the Court of Appeal in Bennett -v—News Group Newspapers [2002] EMLR 39 and Chase -v—News...

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