IP, Technology & Data

Last week newspapers reported that an Edinburgh-based property developer had won a defamation case in the English High Court against the publishers of a Dubai-based newspaper.

Mark Emlick runs both the Edinburgh-based company Dunedin Independent and also a Dubai property enterprise entitled the Strategic Property Investment Group. In April last year Gulf News published a story on its website falsely accusing Mr Emlick of misleading Dubai investors.

Mr Emlick was awarded £25,000 in compensation for the damage to his business reputation.

This is how the story was reported. However I was surprised that there was no indication that the publishers had at least tried to advance any of the obvious defences that are available in this sort of case. In fact, they didn’t even turn up in Court. Why was this?

It turns out that the publishers didn’t bother with any of this because they entirely rejected the jurisdiction of the High Court. They maintained that a defamation case against a Dubai newspaper brought by a Dubai property developer regarding business events in Dubai should only be heard in a Court in – you’ve guessed it – Dubai.

In contrast presumably Mr Emlick brought the proceedings in England and not Dubai, because English law is very helpful to plaintiffs in defamation proceedings.

Consistent with previous decisions including the colourful case of boxing promoter Don King, the English court decided it did have jurisdiction because the on-line edition of the Gulf News was accessible from England, and because Mr Emlick had a reputation in England.

So the on-line publication of an article allows the pro plaintiff English courts to decide defamation issues that are fundamentally unconnected with the UK, provided the plaintiff has a reputation in the UK.

All that said, if the publishers couldn’t be bothered sending a lawyer to the High Court I doubt they are going to bother sending £25,000. Also it suggests that they may be prepared to stand behind their accusations. Certainly Mr Emlick has not managed to force the publishers to retract the accusations in the country in which they were made.

I suspect Mr Emlick may have to answer the question “Why not Dubai?” before this matter is resolved to his satisfaction.

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Martin Sloan

Partner at Brodies LLP
Martin is a partner in Brodies Technology, Information and Outsourcing group and has wide experience of advising clients on technology procurement and IT and business process outsourcing projects. Martin also advises on data protection (including the GDPR), and general technology and intellectual property law, and has a particular interest in the laws applying to social media and new technology such as mobile apps, contactless/mobile payments, and smart metering.
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