LONDON: The legal team instructed to represent and defend the publishers of Mail Online and Mail on Sunday in Shahbaz Sharif vs Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) defamation case took active steps to stay the trial proceedings through a consent agreement with Shahbaz Sharif’s lawyers at Carter Ruck and Imran Ali Yosuaf’s legal representatives but failed at the last minute, this correspondent has learnt from credible legal sources.
Wiggins LLP — representing Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) for Mail Online and Mail on Sunday — also proposed that the defamation meaning trial as a preliminary issue should also be stayed if the parties agreed to stay the full trial till the conclusion of the cases related to Shahbaz Sharif in Pakistan but lawyers for both Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Ali Yousaf refused to agree.
Around five weeks ago, the meaning trial on 5th February at the London High Court, Wiggins LLP proposed to Carter Ruck through a draft agreement that the main trial should be stayed on the basis that there were insecurities around the issue of costs for ANL as the main claimant Shahbaz Sharif was in jail and who would be responsible for paying legal costs of Mail newspapers in the event of their successful defence against the claim.
Carter Ruck addressed the issue after speaking to Shahbaz Sharif, provided surety of costs and refused to agree with the proposal to stay the trial. A few days before the meaning trial under Justice Matthew Nicklin at the London High Court, according to sources, Wiggins LLP again wrote to Carter Ruck. This time, the lawyers for Mail suggested that they will publish a clarification in the print and prominently in the online version of David Rose’s article that David Rose’s article is subject to defamation claims and that the libel case has been stayed while the accountability court proceedings are ongoing and a conclusion awaited.
Shahbaz Sharif’s lawyers replied that their client was prepared to stay proceedings if the paper apologised in print and online, paid damages and removed the article. The Mail lawyers refused to accept the counter proposal, according to sources.
Carter Ruck then proposed that it will agree for the trial to be stayed provided that the Mail published clarifications on the article on the terms and the manner it wants; that the defamation case has to be stayed till the case of Shahbaz Sharif goes to the Supreme Court of Pakistan and not just till the NAB courts or the High Court; that the Mail will pay damages if Shahbaz Sharif was acquitted from the Accountability Court; that once a decision has been made in the Supreme Court, the stay can be then lifted on 28 days notice but the stay will not be lifted while the case is in the appeals process.
Carter Ruck consented on these basis to stay the proceedings but Justice Matthew Nicklin, ahead of the trial, didn’t approve the Mail proposal or Shahbaz Sharif’s consent. Justice Nicklin, according to sources, asked both Carter Ruck and Wiggin LLP to take the third party – Imran Ali Yousaf – on board in reference to the ongoing stay proceedings and place before him the proposals for stay being discussed by Carter Ruck and Wiggins LLP.
The Mail lawyers then approached MR Solicitors, acting for Imran Ali Yousaf, with the same proposal of publishing a prominent clarification and staying the trial on the same terms and conditions as agreed with Carter Ruck but Imran Ali Yousaf’s lawyers didn’t agree.
The judge conditioned all three parties to review their positions before 19th of January 2021. According to sources, Carter Ruck and MR Solicitors jointly decided in the end not to go for the stay.
The defamation hearing then went ahead on 5th February 2021 and the court found that Shahbaz Sharif’s defamation level was Chase 1 throughout while Imran Yousaf’s defamation Chase level was determined to be 1 and 2.
The Mail now has around two weeks to submit evidence before the court. There has been no comment from the lawyers of Mail but David Rose said in a recent statement that some reports that Daily Mail was going to settle the case with Shahbaz Sharif were false. “We are not. We are digging in for a fight.”
Barrister Rashid Ahmed, a media law expert and commentator, commented that normally a defendant would only offer such proposals when it’s unsure about its defence, unsure about the outcome and unsure about the strength of it’s case.
Barrister Rashid Ahmed said that Daily Mail’s reporter on social media has repeated that the paper has strong defence but in the courtroom, during the defamation meaning trial, Mail’s lawyer took a different position when he conceded before the judge that there was no actual evidence to prove that Shahbaz Sharif was involved in money-laundering and the lawyer went on to tell the judge that the paper didn’t accuse Shahbaz Sharif and Imran Ali Yousaf of money-laundering. The media law lawyer added: “This position in the courtroom explains why ANL wanted to stay the trial before the meaning trail.”