Wednesday Sep 22, 2021
LONDON: The Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), publishers of The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, are yet to submit evidence in Shahbaz Sharif’s defamation case – seven months after Justice Sir Matthew Nicklin ruled at the London High Court ruled that Mail on Sunday’s article by reporter David Rose carried the highest level of defamatory meaning for both Shahbaz Sharif and his son-in-law Ali Imran Yousaf.
On February 5, Justice Sir Nicklin determined that the level of defamatory meaning for both Shahbaz Sharif and Ali Imran Yousaf was Chase level 1 – the highest form of defamation in English law – and the judge also set a deadline for The Daily Mail to file a defence but since then the defendants have sought three extensions, asking the court to grant more time citing COVID-19 lockdown and travel restrictions.
Sources at the London High Court shared that the Mail’s lawyers asked for the third extension around a month ago, arguing that due to the continuing travel restrictions and Pakistan’s red listing, its team was unable to visit Pakistan to collect evidence to prepare its defence.
According to sources, the ANL’s lawyers have so far received three extensions and, in all the applications, cited travel restrictions and Pakistan’s red listing as the reason it couldn’t travel to Pakistan.
The lawyers of Shahbaz Sharif at Carter-Ruck raised the issue at one point that the defence was using delaying tactics and hiding behind the red listing of Pakistan to buy more time but both sides agreed for time extension as the judge would have granted extension easily due to the genuine travel restrictions issue.
The lawyers of Shahbaz Sharif, according to sources, argued why the evidence cannot be called over from Pakistan; why it cannot be arranged through online facilities and why the Mail could not present the evidence that it claimed to have in its possession when it published the defamatory article, making allegations of fraud and money-laundering of millions of pounds.
The third extension, according to the source, ends in a few days and Pakistan has come off the red list, making it possible for the ANL lawyers to make travel arrangements to prepare its defence.
The court source shared that on all three occasions, the Mail lawyers applied to the court seeking more time to file a defence. Shahbaz Sharif was advised by his lawyers not to oppose the applications as the court would grant permission regardless due to COVID-19 restrictions and that would mean that the claimant would pay the costs.
After the February hearing, The Daily Mail first sought time till the end of March to submit evidence but later on told the court that it needed more time to file the defence. Last month, it applied for an extension for the third time, citing the same reasons.
Shahbaz Sharif and Ali Imran Yousaf are separately represented by two different sets of lawyers. The Daily Mail has said that it needs to interview dozens of people in Pakistan as part of its evidence gathering effort against Shahbaz Sharif.
In the first week of January 2021, the London High Court had ruled in favour of Shahbaz Sharif and Ali Imran Yousaf in relation to the meaning of reporter David Rose’s article published on July 14, 2019, in which it was alleged that Shahbaz Sharif and his son-in-law were involved in money-laundering and embezzlement of the British money meant for Pakistan’s poor people.
The court had heard arguments from lawyers from all sides about David Rose’s article – "Did the family of Pakistani politician who has become the poster boy for British overseas aid STEAL funds meant for earthquake victims, asks David Rose" – which made headlines in Pakistan for two years.
It is this ruling on the meaning by Sir Nicklin that the newspaper will have to now defend if the case goes to trial.
The Mail lawyer Andrew Caldecott QC had told the judge that the newspaper “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 The Daily Mail’s lawyer, Justice Nicklin ruled that an ordinary reader in Britain would have understood 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 in 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.”