Jerusalem Patriarch Launches London Libel Action

Staying with Jerusalem, here’s one I missed from a couple of weeks ago, via the Press Gazette:

The head of the Greek Orthodox Church has launched a legal battle for libel damages against an Arab newspaper in a bitter dispute.

His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos is suing HH Saudi Research and Marketing (UK) over a story in the UK version of the newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, which he claims was defamatory.

The story claimed that he had improperly and illegally sold real estate, parted with church properties in Jerusalem, and disposed of money raised, he says.

These are, of course, exactly the same accusations which Theophilos’s supporters have made against his predecessor, Irineos (Irineos in turn has blamed his treasurer, who reportedly fled to South America). I blogged on the saga most recently here.

…Patriarch Theophilos says that the paper’s response to his complaint about the story on March 31 last year has been characterised by evasion and delay, and that solicitors did not reply until six weeks later.

The publishers added insult to injury by relying on a defence of common law qualified privilege, on the spurious basis that the article fairly represented the claims of competing camps, according to a High Court writ.

…The writ was issued by solicitors Carter-Ruck.

Carter-Ruck is the best-known – or most notorious – law firm in the UK to specialise in libel cases, and it is often the preferred port of call for the rich and powerful; recent cases are listed here. The satirical news magazine Private Eye, which has been sued on various occasions in years gone by, invariably describes it as “Carter-Fuck”.

In 2002 HH Saudi Research and Marketing (UK) won a libel case which established a “reportage” defence in libel cases. As discussed here:

Al-Fagih v HH Saudi Research and Marketing (UK)

In this important decision, the Court of Appeal clarified the scope of the qualified privilege defence when reporting on political controversies. Mr Al-Fagih brought libel proceedings against the defendant newspaper, which is part owned by the Saudi Arabian royal family and which is generally supportive of the Saudi Arabian government. The newspaper had published an article alleging that a political colleague of Al-Fagih’s had told it that Al-Fagih had spread malicious rumours about him and had accused his mother of procuring women for sexual intercourse.

…Before the Court of Appeal, the newspaper argued that the disinterested reporting of a political dispute should more readily attract qualified privilege than an article in which the newspaper made allegations of its own. A majority of the Court, allowing the appeal, noted that although verification of a third party’s allegations would usually be necessary if a defence of qualified privilege is to succeed, circumstances can arise where the public is entitled to be informed of a political dispute which is being fairly reported even though verification had not been sought.

That ruling provided a precedent which was successfully used by Searchlight magazine in case brought by the BNP.

One Response

  1. […] no idea if Palestinians are now in fact more satisfied). And if all this wasn’t enough, he recently retained the law firm Carter-Ruck to pursue a libel claim against a British-based Arabic newspaper through […]

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