The High Court has described a libel claim as being ‘totally without merit’ after the complainants had failed to establish ‘substantial publication’ within England and Wales. The article at the subject of the complaint was published on the web site of a South African weekly magazine called Financial Mail. The claim was made by an investment firm listing on the Alternative Investment Market, LonZim, and two senior executives of the firm. They complained about what Andrew Sprague, a non-executive director of a company that held LonZim shares, had accused them of doing.
The High Court ruled that the complainants had failed to prove publication – which requires evidence of readership and not just availability – within England and Wales. Sprague had produced evidence which showed that since publication there had been a total of a mere 65 visits to the contentious article. The High Court also noted that it was not possible to ascertain whether or not those visits included more than one visit by the same person or the jurisdiction in which the visitors where located. The publishers of the web site had stated than on average approximately 6.79% of visits to their site were made by Internet users based in the UK. In applying that percentage to the 65 visits, the Court estimated that four visits may have been made by one or more visitors based in the UK. The Court concluded that, taken at its highest, the evidence showed at best minimal publication of the words complained of. It did not show that a substantial tort had been committed in England and Wales.