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Saturday May 08 2021

Daily Mail seeks more time to submit evidence in Shahbaz Sharif defamation case

LONDON: The lawyers for Mail on Sunday and reporter David Rose have approached the London High Court seeking more time to file a defence in the defamation case brought against them by former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Ali Yousaf, his son-in-law.

Court sources have confirmed that lawyers for the Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publishers of Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, sought four more months to gather evidence from Pakistan.

Justice Sir Matthew Nicklin at the London High Court had set a timetable in the first week of February 2021 asking the paper to submit the evidence by the end of April 2021. Last week, the lawyers for the paper made an application to the court seeking two more months.

Shahbaz and his son-in-law are represented by two different sets of lawyers and their lawyers have agreed to an extension in deadline, as is standard practise.

A Daily Mail source confirming that the extension between the three sides has been agreed, said that Daily Mail has faced issues to collect evidence owing to the difficulties related to COVID-19 lockdown and the fact that now Pakistan is on the Red List of the UK.

The lawyers for Imran Ali Yousaf have, however, expressed concern that the publisher is using delaying tactics. The ANL publishers have in the past asked for a delay in proceedings multiple times, citing the inability of the Mail’s legal team to visit Pakistan to gather evidence.

According to court sources, Daily Mail has said that it needs to interview dozens of people in Pakistan as part of its evidence-gathering effort against Shahbaz.

Shahbaz Sharif wins round one of defemation case

In the first week of January 2021, the London High Court had ruled in favour of Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Ali Yousaf in relation to the meaning of reporter David Rose’s article published on July 14, 2019. The article had alleged that Shahbaz Sharif and his son-in-law were involved in money-laundering and embezzlement of British money meant for the underprivileged in Pakistan.

Justice Nicklin ruled that Mail on Sunday’s article carried the highest level of defamatory meaning for both Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Ali Yousaf and told the paper that it must back each and every allegation with evidence at the trial.

The Daily Mail had contested that the words used in the article were not defamatory but the judge ruled that the level of defamation to Shahbaz Sharif was Chase level 1 – the highest form of defamation in English law – on all counts raised by Sharif’s lawyers in their arguments and Ali Imran Yousaf’s defamation was Chase Level 1 in one instance and Chase Level 2 in another.

It is this ruling on the meaning by Justice Nicklin that the newspaper will have to now defend if the case goes to the trial.

The Mail lawyer Andrew Caldecott QC told the judge that Daily Mail “concedes” that there were no money-laundering allegations against Shahbaz but his family members. The Daily Mail lawyer said, “actual detailed evidence against Shahbaz Sharif is pretty limited, based on assumptions but his luxurious house is relied on”.

Rejecting arguments of Daily Mail’s lawyer, Justice Nicklin ruled that an ordinary reader in Britain would have understood the meaning to be establishing that Shahbaz Sharif was involved in corruption, embezzlement in the Earthquake Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) and DFID funds as well as money-laundering. He said in the natural and ordinary of the article, the claimant was declared guilty at Chase level 1.

David Rose had said in a tweet after the judgment was published on Pakistani media: “The Shahbaz Sharif defamation case is strictly preliminary. The judgment sets the parameters for the eventual trial, which lies in the future: it determines what the court says the article means. It is NOT a final outcome.”