The High Court recently refused (among other things) to grant an interim injunction in libel and harassment to a former council employee, Ayodele Adele Vaughan (the claimant) concerning evidence she anticipated being given in forthcoming employment tribunal (ET) proceedings.
The proposed injunction had sought to restrain Lewisham Council and various other defendants from harassing or publicly defaming the claimant in relation to their anticipated conduct and defence of the ET proceedings. She argued that this would cause her alarm and distress since she was a vulnerable disabled claimant with fragile mental health. The case in question was Vaughan v London Borough of Lewisham and Others  EWHC 795 (QB), judgment in which was given by Mrs Justice Sharp on 11 April.
The court noted that since the sole purpose of the injunction application had been to prevent seven out of eight defendants from making statements which the claimant anticipated would defame her when defending her ET claims, this would obviously interfere with the proper conduct of the ET proceedings and their just resolution. Particularly when Vaughan was the claimant in the relevant proceedings, this was ‘a clear abuse of the court’s process’.
Sharp J noted the remark of Lord Diplock in Trapp v Mackie  1 WLR 377 HL that: ‘…the rule of law is one which involves the balancing of conflicting public policies; one general, that the law should provide a remedy to the citizen whose good name and reputation is traduced by malicious falsehoods uttered by another; the other particular, that witnesses before tribunals recognised by law should… give their testimony free from any fear of being harassed by an action on an allegation whether true or false that they acted from malice.’
Also the ‘jurisdiction of the court to grant injunctions in defamation proceedings is a delicate one which is very rarely exercised’. And as Lord Justice Brooke noted in Greene v Associated Newspapers Ltd  EWCA Civ 1462: ‘… in an action for defamation a court will not impose a prior restraint on publication unless it is clear that no defence will succeed at the trial’. Sharp J did not accept a ‘bare assertion’ to that effect from the instant claimant.
And although the content of pleadings can in certain circumstances be regarded as part of a course of harassing conduct under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the court saw ‘no evidence that the defendants did anything or were likely to do anything in the ET proceedings which is likely to be categorised… as oppressive and unacceptable conduct so as to give rise to a claim in harassment’.
But in any event, section 1(3)(b) of the act provides an effective defence in respect of any course of conduct if the person in question demonstrates it was ‘pursued under any enactment or rule of law or to comply with any condition or requirement imposed by any person under any enactment’. In this case, the conduct alleged was ‘pursued’ in accordance with case management directions and orders made by the ET in accordance with its statutory powers under the Employment Tribunals (Constitution & Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2004. In all the circumstances, the injunction application was refused.
This is an unusual case raising clear issues of public policy surrounding the need for unfettered testimony in judicial proceedings in the absence of clear bad faith or (per Iqbal v Dean Manson Solicitors  EWCA Civ 12) the casting of ‘irrelevant and abusive dirt… as part of a malicious campaign’. If a court had granted an injunction in the instant circumstances this could have posed an undesirable threat to the proper operation of the rule of law.
Feelgood factor for community pub campaigners
What do such musical luminaries as Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer, Ian Dury and Dr Feelgood have to do with community empowerment in part 5 of the Localism Act 2011? A trip down the pub might assist. Not just any boozer, though. For the historic Ivy House pub in south London, boasting a splendid 1930s interior and erstwhile host to these and other rock legends, has been rescued from sale and development by some energetic community action and timely listing as an asset of community value.
When, in April 2012, the pub’s then owner, Enterprise Inns, announced it was selling the premises, local solicitor Tessa Blunden, Campaign for Real Ale member and Travers Smith litigation lawyer, together with other local residents (including a town planner and a land management consultant) formed a steering group to rescue the pub. But although a Grade II listing was obtained for the 1930s interior, in October 2012 the premises were sold to a businessman who placed them back on the market for £750,000 with a view to development as flats. Nevertheless, the group successfully applied to Southwark Council for listing as an asset of community value (under section 87 et seq of the Localism Act 2011) which allowed a six-month moratorium to raise purchase money. Fortunately, in March 2013, the group was able to buy the property for £810,000 with funding from the Architectural Heritage Fund among others.
A community share issue is now intended to enable the tavern to open up and trade. This is also envisaged to create an ‘exciting, vibrant, thriving neighbourhood and bring an increased sense of community to the area’. Community pubs minister Brandon Lewis also got a political drink. For it enabled him to trumpet: ‘Our Community Right to Bid has saved its first ever pub – the Ivy House – great news for punters’ (see the pub's website).
Dr Nicholas Dobson is a lawyer specialising in local authority law and governance