High Court delivers blow to libel tourism in Magnitsky libel ruling

The High Court has thrown out a libel case by a retired Moscow policeman against a UK fund manager in a case that has been labelled a blow to libel tourism.

UK businessman Bill Browder instructed HowardKennedyFsi (HKFsi) partners Mark Stephens and Sue Thackeray to lead the defence of defamation claims by Pavel Karpov.

Karpov turned to Olswang partner Geraldine Proudler to lead the claim, which related to allegations on a campaigning website run by Browder about the death of his lawyer Segei Magnitsky.

Magnitsky died in a Russian jail in 2009 but he was convicted of tax evasion in June in a posthumous Russian trial. Browder and his UK-based fund Hermitage Capital claimed Karpov was complicit in the “torture and murder” of Magnitsky on a website, Russian Untouchables, and in TV interviews.

Matrix Chambers’ Antony White QC, appearing for Browder, applied for the court to strike out the claim on the basis that it was an abuse of process.

One Brick Court’s Andrew Cadecott QC, instructed by Proudler for Karpov, had said in written submissions that “all the allegations are very serious and in the claimant’s case false”.

Dismissing the claim Mr Justice Simon ruled: “The claimant cannot establish a real reputation within this jurisdiction ufficient to establish a real and substantial tort.”

He added that it would have been more appropriate to have brought the claim in Russia: “The connection with this country is exiguous and therefore there is a degree of artificiality about his seeking to protect his reputation in this country.”

HKFsi partner Stephens said: “This decision will act as a serious disincentive for libel tourists to see this as their destination of choice. For too long crooks, brigands and those with only the most tenuous connections to the UK have been able to come here in order to launder their reputations in our courts. Well no more.”

Thackeray added that the case would strengthen the Defamation Act, which is due to come into force in December.

The legal line-up

For the claimant Pavel Karpov

Olswang partner Geraldine Proudler instructed One Brick Court’s Andrew Caldecott QC to lead Ian Helme

For the defendants Browder, Hermitage & others

HKFsi partners Mark Stephens and Sue Thackeray instructed Matrix Chambers’ Antony White QC to lead One Brick Court’s Catrin Evans