April 26, 2021
The claimant, Walter Tzvi Soriano, resident in London, issued proceedings against the sixth defendant, Richard Silverstein, resident in the USA, for defamation. In December 2020, Mr Soriano’s application for service out of the jurisdiction was granted in respect of the first to fifth defendants, but not in relation to Mr Silverstein, as the court was not satisfied that he had been properly served with notice of the hearing. Accordingly, the application in relation to Mr Silverstein was adjourned.
The claim against Mr Silverstein concerned two articles posted by him on his internet blog, which he said focused on “the perceived excesses of the Israeli national security state”. The evidence suggested that the majority of the readership of his blog was split between the US and Israel, with around 5% being in the UK.
The first blog post, entitled “Poor Walter Soriano Beset by ‘Dark, Hidden Forces’“, was posted on 30 January 2020. There were 5,811 global unique pageviews of the post, of which 2,741 were in the US and 792 were in the UK.
The second blog post, entitled “Walter Soriano: Bibi’s Bully and Fixer for Putin’s Favourite Oligarch”, was posted on 14 February 2020. There were 774 unique pageviews of the article, of which 276 were in the US and 149 were in the UK.
Mr Soriano alleged that the natural and ordinary meanings of the words complained of was:
- first blog post: Mr Soriano was an individual who made illegal arrangements for corrupt oligarchs; Mr Soriano hired hackers to illegally spy on his clients’ enemies; and
- second blog post: Mr Soriano made illegal arrangements for Oleg Deripaska and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mr Soriano alleged that the publications had caused or were likely to cause serious harm to his reputation.
Mr Silverstein conceded that the jurisdictional gateway under CPR PD 6B applied as Mr Soriano had made a claim in tort and he had a good arguable case that damage had been sustained in the UK. The question was whether serious damage had been caused.
Mr Justice Johnson found that, on the evidence of the number of views of the blog posts in the UK, it could be inferred that a significant proportion had taken place here and that therefore Mr Soriano had established that there was a serious issue to be tried in relation to the question of publication.
Johnson J was also satisfied that, considering Mr Soriano’s pleaded meanings of the words complained of against the actual content of the publications, he had a real prospect of establishing, following further disclosure and evidence at trial, that the words complained of had caused, or were likely to cause, serious harm.
As for whether it was clearly more appropriate to bring the action in England and Wales than any other place (s 9(2) Defamation Act 2013), Johnson J said that the figures on the numbers of views of the blog posts in Israel, the USA and the UK were not so clear as to provide the answer.
As for the extent of damage to Mr Soriano’s reputation in the different jurisdictions, Johnson J found that Mr Soriano had not shown that the blog posts had damaged his reputation more extensively in England and Wales than in any other jurisdiction. Johnson J took into account: (i) Mr Soriano’s international business interests; (ii) the lack of any evidence from Mr Soriano on which to enable him to make anything other than a very broad brush assessment; (iii) the much more extensive readership of the posts in the USA than in England and Wales; and (iv) the small number of people (in absolute terms) who had read the posts in England and Wales. It also could not be held that Mr Soriano’s reputation had been damaged more extensively in any other identified jurisdiction, as the evidence was not available.
As for the target audience, Johnson J found that the blog was primarily aimed at an Israeli/USA audience. Further, the expert evidence showed that it was unlikely that an English judgment would be enforceable in Washington state. This was a “weighty factor” in favour of Washington being the most appropriate forum. In addition, there was no suggestion that Mr Soriano would not receive a fair hearing in Washington and there was no language barrier.
Accordingly, considering the claim against Mr Silverstein in isolation, Mr Soriano had not shown that England and Wales was a more appropriate place to proceed than Washington. However, the claim did not stand in isolation, as there were claims against five further defendants in relation to an additional eight publications. They were distinct claims, but there was considerable overlap. It would therefore be more convenient and appropriate, Johnson J said, if all the claims proceeded in the same jurisdiction. At trial there were likely to be common and linked issues, including as to Mr Soriano’s pre-publication reputation, the harm caused by each of the publications and any defences of public interest or truth. This outweighed the factors that weighed in favour of Washington being the appropriate forum.
Johnson J therefore allowed the application for service out of the jurisdiction. However, he made it clear that this success was dependent on the claims against the first to firth defendants proceeding in this jurisdiction. Were it not for this, he would have refused permission to serve out of the jurisdiction. (Walter Tzvi Soriano v Forensic News LLC  EWHC 873 (QB) (13 April 2021) — to read the judgment in full, click here).