High Court Judgment On Greg De Hoedt.
Reynolds v De Hoedt
Hearing note – 22 May 2014
Royal Courts of Justice
Master Bard in Chambers
Application to set-aside Default Judgment of 23 February 2014
1. This is an application to set aside a Default Judgment of 23 February in a libel action brought by the Claimant.
2. The Defendant has been represented by Mr McLean. The Claimant was represented by a Mackenzie friend, who is a pupil, who addressed me in terms clear and modest, and perfectly proper.
3. The temperate nature of the hearing has not been matched by the matters which have gone on between the parties. The Claimant is president of CLEAR which is campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis. The Defendant and others used to be with CLEAR but departed in circumstances described at best as acrimonious and became associated with NORML which has similar aims. As it happens there has been a great deal of unpleasantness and vituperation. As far as I can tell it has been largely one way and directed at the Claimant, who has brought libel proceedings against three defendants.
4. The evidence shows that the Defendant was not responsive or receptive to approaches from the Claimant to seek to get him to desist publishing numerous defamatory allegations on the internet and not prepared to provide an address for service. When the Claimant used the business premises associated with the Defendant and the Defendant’s parent’s address on both occasions the documents were returned. The Defendant states that he had not been given the documents or told about them. This is something I am asked to view askance, suffice to say Master Eastman was prepared on seeing the Sheriff’s documents showing contracts at a particular address to make an Order deeming that an address for service.
5. Default Judgment was granted on 23 February. On 26 February the Claimant notified the Defendant by email. On 14 March the Defendant’s Solicitor went on record. On 26 March about 28 days after the judgment was granted the Application was made to set-aside.
6. The Claimant is seeking damages and an injunction and Master Eastman did not have power to grant an injunction and he directed when entering Judgment that it was for the Claimant to list the application for an injunction before a judge. This is due on 4 June
7. I have not so far gone into the detail of the allegations made and complained of in the Particulars of Claim. I should start by commenting that a considerable amount of what has been said by the Defendant can only be characterised as puerile, as to the publications and the response which has arisen from attempts by the Claimant to be in contact with him. Although the Defendant contends that the Claimant directed tirades at him I have seen no evidence of this. The way the Claimant has expressed himself has been surprisingly temperate given the nature of the allegations published. Without going into any details the substance includes that he has paedophilic tendencies, he has reported cannabis users to the police, a serious allegation for him, that he has been pocketing large sums of money from CLEAR and that he has been given to exposing himself on the internet. I take these as a snapshot and there are other allegations.
8. I am asked to set-aside Default Judgment in circumstances where the Defendant is coming from a place which is less than attractive. Not only has he posted these puerile allegations on the internet, not only has there been apparent attempts to avoid service, as has been seen from what was tweeted by himself there is a certain kind of mockery over the Claimant’s attempt to gain redress. The Defendant produced a Witness Statement. In it he says that the Claimant has regularly subjected him to abuse by email, including making threats to take legal action. Apart from proper and understandable threats about publications I can seen no evidence at all of any regular abuse on the part of the Claimant against the Defendant. Further, although the Defendant says in his Witness Statement that will raise substantive defences he does not seek to do so at all.
9. In all these circumstances, Mr McLean properly in seeking to address me on the set-aside Application has not focused on condition (a) because subject to the pleadings point he acknowledges that the Defendant has not put forward evidence to that effect but that there is another good reason the Defendant should be allowed to defend the claim.
10. I have to bear in mind questions of whether the Application was made promptly…… It does not seem to me that this will be determinative of the matter. It seems that the Defendant within 2 weeks or so of learning of the Judgment had solicitors on record. Within 12 days they filed the Application to set aside the Judgment. I am not prepared to say that this is so tardy as to cause discretion to be exercised against the Defendant.
11. Because of the Defendant’s unattractive behaviour and him making it difficult that I should rely on those as good reason to decline to consider discretion rather than exercise it as he has not come to Court with clean hands. That makes the Defendant’s position unattractive but if there is a good reason to set aside then that ought not to stand in his way although it may stand in costs.
12. The strongest point that Mr McLean makes is his attack on the Particulars of Claim because he says for various reasons they are defective. I have no intention of going into details of criticisms some of which are better than others. Most of the criticisms are directed towards the point that the extent of publication cannot be known, that there is not enough material to assess damages, that sometimes the words used are not sufficiently or properly pleaded or particularised, that the claim for exemplary damages is inappropriate, that pleading malice as freestanding is inappropriate
13. I am told that Master Eastman has struck out a claim against Bovey but that is not a claim in identical form to this and not knowing the basis I am not bound by that. The Claimant acknowledges the force in some observations by the Defendant. His desire is not to seek substantial damages, not least because he recognises the difficulty of enforcement, but rather to get a judgment in his favour and an injunction to support it. He has indicated that he would be satisfied with nominal damages to have this matter dealt with once and for all, a sum of £5.
14. There is force in some of Defendant’s criticism, exemplary damages would not be awarded, malice is inappropriately pleaded but there is a good deal of material in the Particulars of Claim in publications printed off the internet which are attached to it which does meet with sufficient standards to stand up as adequate pleading it may be if matters are to go further pleadings may have to be considered
15. I have to deal with this in a manner which is proportionate and an efficient use of the Court’s resources. In exercise of my discretion, the Defendant cannot complain about the Particulars, given his failure to respond he cannot complain about judgment at £5 and a order for costs against him with the Claimant going for an injunction .
16. In regards to the Particulars of Claim, whatever particulars can stand that up as a matter to which there is no defence, there is no real prospect of successfully defending, on the material, even if pleaded by an expert, there is no good reason why judgment should be set aside or varied … nominal damages are assessed at £5, I am dismissing the application and the Claimant has costs of the Application and the action.
17. Upon hearing the solicitor for the Defendant and the Claimant in person with the assistance of a Mackenzie friend, and upon the Claimant reducing his damages to nominal damages of £5, I order;
1. Application to set aside dismissed
2. Damages assessed at £5
3. Defendant to pay the Claimants’ cost of the Application and of action to date.
18. I will assess the litigant in person’s costs now…..Total at £18/hour. There is nothing objectionable in this. This is summarily assessed at £5000.
PERMISSION TO APPEAL
19. I am asked permission to appeal on two grounds:
1. To enlarge the Defendant’s Witness Statement
2. That the claim should be stuck out because of the way in which it is pleaded
20. I do not agree on 1. There is nothing put forward by way of real prospect so this cannot amount to a ground of appeal
21. As far as the 2nd is concerned there is no current application to strike out the claim, merely an Application for setting aside, I have expressed the view for the purposes of a judgment for nominal damages that there is easily sufficient pleadings for it to be inappropriate to set aside, it would be a wasteful use of the Court’s resources and disproportionate. Therefore I refuse permission to appeal
22. Really this is not a seemly way for anyone to conduct a genuine political campaign to be behaving. This is the sort of thing which would give that campaign a bad name… Mr McLean please pass on to your client that he should reflect on this.
23. In the same way it should be understood that it can be inflammatory to crow about a victory. I can understand any step into the right direction affords personal satisfaction. However, it must be in the interest of parties, the legal system, and the cause for this to come to an end. They are not flying the flag in an appropriate manner.