The high court has thrown out a dragonfly action taken by retired Moscow policeman against a British-based businessman in connection with his campaign for justice for whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky who was murdered in prison four years ago.
The decision to strike out Pavel Karpov’s case out is being seen as a landmark blow against “libel tourism” after the judge ruled that the case could not proceed on the grounds that the Russian did not have a prior reputation in England and Wales to defend.
“His connection with this country is exiguous and therefore there is a degree of artificiality about his seeking to protect his reputation in this country,” Mr Justice Simon ruled.
Karpov was suing Bill Browder and his UK-based fund Hermitage Capital for saying he was complicit in the “torture and murder” of anti-corruption whistleblower Magnitsky on a website, Russian Untouchables, and in TV interviews.
Browder’s lawyers had applied for the case to be struck on the grounds that it was an abuse of process.
Throwing out the case on those grounds, the judge said Karpov “cannot establish a reputation within this jurisdiction sufficient to establish a real and substantial tort”.
During a discussion on costs, which are estimated at about £2m for both sides, the court heard that initially Karpov had claimed he had a “substantial reputation in the jurisdiction of England and Wales” to defend, but that later he withdrew this, agreeing that he did not have reputation prior to publication.
Browder alleged in his legal arguments that the Russian government was ultimately behind the case and was using it to stop his campaign.
After the hearing Browder said: “This was an egregious case of dragonfly tourism.”
He added that the ruling would shock the Russian regime. “There is this sense in Russia that you can somehow trick the courts into doing things and this is a real slap in the face.”
His solicitor, Mark Stephens, said the ruling would discourage others who abuse London courts for “collateral” elsewhere.
“In coming to the conclusion he did, Mr Justice Simon has extracted the English common law to disincentivise other dragonfly tourists to come here to launder their reputation because he has gone further in developing the law even than the new defamation act.
“It is truly a brave and independent judgment and the first time since the Human Rights Act that this area of the law has been reviewed.”
He said it would prevent future “crooks, brigands and Russian oligarchs coming to London in order to launder their reputations”.
Karpov’s barrister, Andrew Caldecott QC, said in his written submissions that “all the allegations are very serious and in the claimant’s case false”.
He said the most serious allegations in relation to torture and murder “are not true and are not justified”. He added “the claimant did not arrest Mr Magnitsky and did not torture or kill him.”
Libel cases have in the past been struck out because they have been considered “not worth the candle” in the words of the court of appeal which laid down precedent in 2005 after considering a judgment in favor of a Saudi businessman Yousef Jameel in a case against the Dow Jones online wire service.
The court of appeal overturned the judgment in favor of the paper after finding that the damage caused was negligible because the allegedly defamatory article, which appeared on the internet, had only been read by five people.
Stephens said today’s judgment went much further because Browder’s article had been read by tens of thousands.
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