Vardy v Rooney

09 February 2022

The background

The ongoing proceedings relating to Defendant’s publication of a post on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook on 9 October 2019 alleging that the Claimant had secretly informed The Sun about Defendant’s private information for years.

The Claimant applied to strike out paragraphs of the Amended Defence, arguing that (i) their content was irrelevant to the Defendant’s evidence that her social media post was true, (ii) a review of the content would incur additional costs and Court time, and (iii) the content did not contain reasonable grounds for defending the claim.

The Court applied the principles regarding strike out as outlined by Warby J in Duchess of Sussex v Associated Newspapers Limited [2020] EWHC 1058 (Ch), adjusting them to reflect that the Vardy v Rooney application was made by the Claimant against the Defendant (as opposed to the other way around in the Duchess of Sussex case).

 

Successful elements of the application

The Claimant’s application to strike out specific sub-paragraphs regarding her close relationship with The Sun was successful. These sub-paragraphs related to the Claimant’s use of this relationship for her self-promotion, allegations that she leaked details about attempts to settle the defamation case out of court, and her disclosures to the Independent Press Standards Organisation following a complaint about an interview with her published in The Sun.

The Court struck these sub-paragraphs out on the basis that the information they provided did not make it more likely that the Claimant would disclose private information about another person. They, therefore, did not support Defendant’s plea of truth and it would not be a good use of further court time and resources for them to be further examined in the course of the case.

 

Unsuccessful elements of the application

The Court refused the remainder of the Claimant’s strike-out applications.

As has been broadly reported in the news media, the Court refused to strike out the Defendant’s contentions that the Claimant was the ‘Secret Wag’ behind a column in The Sun of the same name, which revealed details of the private lives of other wives and girlfriends (popularly known as ‘WAGs’) of prominent footballers. A key part of the reasoning behind this refusal was that the contention could play an important part in Defendant’s Burstein plea. A Burstein plea is a principle arising from the case of Burstein v Times Newspapers Ltd [2001] 1 WLR 57 whereby a Defendant can seek to reduce damages by providing the court with evidence of specific facts which, if known, would affect the Claimant’s reputation those facts to be confined to the relevant sector(s) of her life which are directly relevant to the context in which a defamatory publication has been made. Applied in the present case, by pleading that the Claimant was the ‘Secret Wag’, the Defendant appears to be seeking to establish that the Claimant has a history of sharing private information about her fellow WAGs with The Sun and that, as such, this fact, if proved, can be used as evidence in mitigation of damages.

Notably, the Court also refused to strike out sub-paragraphs which gave rise to questions about the Claimant’s relationship with The Sun journalists, noting that the Claimant overstated the amount of time which would be required to deal with these and, importantly, that they formed a key part of the Defendant’s underlying case about the Claimant’s nature. However, the Court opted to limit the disclosure regarding these relationships to the time subject to disclosure and specifically named journalists.

The Claimant had proposed that certain matters referred to in the Amended Defence ought to be struck out on the basis that they were not relevant, having occurred after the Defendant’s post about the Claimant was published. However, as the Claimant raised this particular issue late, the Court held that Defendant should be permitted to amend the pleading rather than have the relevant details struck out.

Finally, the Court rejected the Claimant’s application for summary judgment regarding her alleged responsibility for the publication of articles relating to one of the Defendant’s Instagram stories on the basis that the Court needed to give regard to the full evidence available at trial to make a decision.

 

Summary

The outcome of this strike-out and summary judgment hearing offers a partial win for both sides, the Claimant having struck out details that were irrelevant to the Amended Defence and the Defendant maintaining key evidence in support of her Burstein plea. Further to the hearing, the Claimant has been ordered to pay £10,500 towards the Defendant’s legal fees – broadly reported in the news media as a victory for the Defendant, though notably the Defendant has been landed with two costs orders for as yet undetermined amounts to pay to the Claimant. How precisely this will affect the outcome of the case won’t become clear until the full libel trial, which is expected to take place in September. The war, for now, rages on.

 

Source: https://www.carter-ruck.com/blog/vardy-v-rooney-2021-ewhc-1888-qb/

 


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