Magic Alex of Beatles fame wins libel tourism appeal

The man dubbed “Magic Alex” by Beatle John Lennon has won his appeal against a decision to strike out his High Court libel case against the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.

Mr Justice Eady held that a High Court Master was wrong to strike the case and dismissed suggestions that the case was one of “libel tourism”, saying that the claimant, John Alexis Mardas, had a reputation in this country was entitled to defend that reputation in the courts – even though there is a dispute over the extent to which the story has been published in the UK, either in print or online.

Mardas, the former head of the Beatles’ Apple Electronics, is suing over articles published by each newspaper on or about February 7 2008 following the death of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian guru to whom the Beatles were closely linked in 1967 and 1968.

He claims the articles meant that he was a charlatan and a fantasising inventor who really did not succeed in inventing anything of worth for the Beatles and who started a rumour that the Maharishi had sought to seduce a woman visitor at his ashram in India causing a rift between the guru and the group.

Only in rare cases would it be appropriate to strike out an action as an abuse of process because a claimant’s reputation had suffered only minimal damage and/or because there had been no real and substantial tort within the jurisdiction, he said.

Mr Justice Eady said he could understand Master Leslie’s dismay at the cost and effort which would be involved in a full scale trial, but went on: “The fact remains, however, that allegations of charlatanism and of lying cannot be dismissed as trivial. Moreover, even if defamatory allegations do relate to events of long ago, that cannot be a ground in itself for refusing access to justice … The author clearly thought the allegations to be of topical interest to the readers.

“It is plainly desirable that some sensible accommodation should be reached, so as to avoid a time-consuming and expensive trial, but that is in the hands of the parties. I am satisfied that the circumstances here cannot be characterised as an abuse of process: nor can it be said that it is appropriate to come to a conclusion on the merits of the litigation, at this early stage, on the basis that a jury would be perverse to resolve the contested issues of fact in the claimant’s favour or to find that he has been defamed.

“It may well be that in due course international agreement will be reached as to the appropriate way of resolving claims arising out of internet publication. That is plainly desirable. For the time being, however, courts are obliged to apply the law as it stands.

“There can be little doubt that if Mr Mardas succeeds in establishing that he has been libelled here, and a real and substantial tort thus committed within the jurisdiction, he is entitled to bring proceedings.

“Thus, although it is fashionable to rail against ‘libel tourism’, there is no reason in law why the courts of England and Wales should decline jurisdiction. Although the claimant is now resident in Greece (within the European Union), he is well known in this jurisdiction and lived here, I understand, from 1963 to 1996. Also, he has two children who live here and have British nationality.

“There is no artificiality about seeking to protect his reputation within this country, as he has done in other litigation (apparently relating to different allegations) in the past. I, like Sir Charles Gray, do not believe that this can be characterised as a case of forum shopping.

“The defendants` advisers state, accurately, that he has not sued either in the United States or in France over these allegations, where there was wider circulation, but that is beside the point. English law permits him to claim whatever is appropriate compensation and vindication in respect of the smaller local publication here. The approach has long been to recognise that where a tort has been committed the appropriate forum will usually be that of the jurisdiction where it took place. What he cannot do is to claim damages here in respect of (say) publications in the United States.”

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