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Sunday Oct 18 2020

Mail-Shahbaz ‘meaning’ hearing postponed till Nov 9

PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif. — Reuters/Files 

LONDON: The meaning hearing in Shahbaz Sharif versus the Mail Newspaper has been postponed till November 9 due to the COVID-19 situation, has learnt.

Court sources have confirmed to this reporter that Justice Jay will hear the case when Association Newspapers Limited (ANL) lawyers and Shahbaz's lawyer at the Carter-Ruck will debate the meaning before the justice.

The hearing was set to take place on Tuesday, October 20, but has been postponed due to pressure on the court schedules.

The publishers of the Mail on Sunday have not submitted their defence in nearly a year in the defamation case initiated by Shahbaz. The ANL lawyers, acting for David Rose and Mail on Sunday, asked the court for a hearing.

Speaking to this correspondent, Rose said that Shahbaz's son-in-law, Ali Imran’s meaning would take place at the same time, alongside Shahbaz's case.

Rose tweeted: “Hello friends in Pakistan. Some of you may know there was to have been a preliminary hearing next Tuesday of the defamation action brought against me by Shahbaz Sharif over the meaning of my article. This has been postponed to a date yet to be fixed after November 11th.”

At the hearing, it will be determined whether the words complained of by the former Punjab chief minister are defamatory or not.

The meaning hearing in defamation cases takes place when the parties dispute over the meaning of the words and thus it is left to the court to determine the meaning of the words, as a preliminary issue — i.e. before going to the effort of preparing for a full trial.

According to legal experts, a trial of meaning as a preliminary issue prevents a defendant from wasting time and money by preparing a defence based on an interpretation of meaning which could change later in the proceedings, and it also prevents the claimant from pursuing a case which may not turn out to be defamatory enough at the later stage and therefore, weakening the case before the trial judge.

The outcome of the meaning hearing will determine which side has the stronger argument. Both sides can still go ahead with the full trial regardless of the outcome of the meaning trial.

The paper had alleged that Shahbaz was involved in corrupting the funds given to Pakistan by British taxpayers.

The report said the DFID poured more than £500 million of UK taxpayers’ money into Punjab in the form of aid during Shahbaz's tenure as chief minister. "Yet, say investigators, all the time that DFID was heaping him and his government with praise and taxpayers’ cash, Shahbaz and his family were embezzling tens of millions of pounds of public money and laundering it in Britain," wrote reporter David Rose. "They are convinced that some of the allegedly stolen money came from DFID-funded aid projects."

Both sides have expressed confidence in the merits of their case. Shahbaz Sharif has said that he and his family couldn’t have taken any money from the earthquake fund because the quake was in 2005 — before he became Punjab chief minister. Daily Mail will argue that the ERRA fund existed until 2012.