Defamation Claim ‘SLAPPED’ Down

Defamation Claim ‘SLAPPED’ Down

On 18th May 2022, the High Court in the jurisdiction of England and Wales announced that it had struck out the defamation of character claim on behalf of Yevgeniy Prigozhin. It was reported that Mr. Prigozhin was a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

What Happened In The Case?

Face value the defamation of character claim was submitted by Mr. Prigozhin from the Wagner Group against Eliot Higgins from a company named Bellingcat. However, during proceedings, it transpired that Mr. Prigozhin had seemingly not complied with basic court case management directions and orders. Another major concern for the courts was the fact that the firm the Claimant had alighted upon to represent him in the legal proceedings withdrew their instructions from the Claimant’s case and closed their file. The High Court decided that the case could not proceed any further and struck it out on the basis that straightforward orders imposed by the court had not been followed.

The case appears to have been proceeding seemingly normally until Mr. Prigozhin was not representing the Wagner Group in the proceedings. The High Court ruled that he was acting in a personal capacity, not seeking a legitimate remedy, aiming to cause Mr. Higgins personal distress, and had the purpose of reducing genuine public debate.

Why Is The Case So Important?

This case is important because it is part of a wider policy trend whereby the courts in the jurisdiction of England and Wales are aiming to stamp out Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. The term has become known by the short form abbreviated acronym ‘SLAPP’.

If the readers think that the claim being struck out is the end of the story then they as the firm who acted for Mr. Prigozhin in the SLAPP action found themselves the subject of a report to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. This was because the conduct exhibited by the firm equated to a violation of the Code of Conduct for Solicitors as circulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and has caused consequential significant financial difficulties for the opposition solicitors.

The opposition firm made serious allegations submitting that the claim was not genuine at all and was deliberately calculated to prevent the Defendants solicitors from circulating material more which lawfully questions persons occupying a similar situation to Prigozhin. In a statement, the Defendant firm confirmed its view by stating it believed the claim by the Claimant was a clear case of SLAPP primarily for the reason that the action of instigating the court proceedings was a deliberate abuse of the legal process because it allegedly had the effect of reducing scrutiny and questioning by the general population. The Defendant solicitors also claimed that both the Claimants and their respective legal representatives had not measured up to the standards laid down by the regulator. This was in the sense that they had both allegedly attempted to limit lawful discussion in public and helped a Claimant to submit a claim with the apparent purpose of reducing inquiries into the facts.

Lessons Learned

As alluded to earlier in the article this case appears to be a clear indicator that both the courts in the jurisdiction of England and Wales and the Solicitors Regulation Authority will simply not accept a claim containing all the hallmarks of Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, also known as SLAPP. The overseers of the legal profession have signaled to claimant parties that if claims are submitted which:

  • are not genuine
  • reduce public debate or
  • and limit investigation

and risk being struck out by the courts and sanctions handed down by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The Legists Content Team


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[3] Russia: Legal Profession – 14 March 2022 - Written questions and answers - Written questions, answers and statements - UK Parliament

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