Sikh Holyman libel tourism case finally thrown out

A libel case brought against a journalist by a Sikh leader was struck out yesterday after the claimant failed to pay £250,000 into court as security for costs.

The case was dismissed at a short hearing in the Court of Appeal by Lord Justice Sedley.

In February, the court had ordered claimant Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj to pay the sum into court within 14 days.

His Holiness’s failure to pay the security bond by 22 February indicated last week that the case would be thrown out, yesterday’s hearing confirmed that action.

The claimant, who since 2002 has been head of Nirmal Kutia Johal – a religious institution which follows the teachings of the Nirmal Sikh faith – was suing journalist Hardeep Singh over an article which appeared in The Sikh Times in August 2007.

Singh said today that he was extremely pleased that the action had finally been dismissed.

“This was a bad case of libel tourism,” he said.

“It’s not right that someone who cannot read or write English, so far as we know, has never been here and has no connection with England can instruct an English lawyer although he has no connection with this country.”

Singh said he defended the case because he genuinely believed in what he had written.

The case had cost him some £90,000 – and now he faced the possibility of a six or seven-year battle through the Indian courts in an attempt to recoup his costs.

“But it is wonderful that the case is over – I am a free man.

“Since this case started I have felt as if I was in manacles – a constant weight which takes over your life.”

Policy-makers, he added, had to consider the issues raised by the case, including the chilling effect of such libel actions and the need to defend freedom of speech.

The Court of Appeal made the costs order against Sant Baba Jeet Singh as he was about to appeal against Justice Eady’s decision in May last year that the libel action should be stayed because the courts would not attempt to rule on doctrinal issues or intervene in the regulation or governance of religious groups

Lady Justice Smith gave the claimant permission for a partial appeal in October, on the grounds that it was arguable that parts of the article in question did not trespass on the territory of doctrinal disputes in Sikhism.

There had been suggestions before today’s dismissal that the case was about to collapse.

The claimant’s lawyers, Ford and Warren – who were working on a no-win, no-fee Conditional Fee Agreement – came off the record, saying they had no instructions from their client.

Singh was being represented by Edward Yell and Carter-Ruck partner Nigel Tait – who are also working on a CFA.

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