November 4, 2019
The claimant, Kabir Kumar Manohar Jagwani, a school teacher, issued proceedings for defamation and harassment against Poonam Joshi Alles, a journalist and campaigner for women’s rights, particularly those of Indian women, in relation to publication online by Ms Alles of an article about Mr Jagwani’s marriage to and divorce from his ex-wife, and subsequent social media posts and comments. Mr Jagwani also applied for an interim injunction to restrain Ms Alles from further harassment and publication of allegedly defamatory material.
Following the rule in Bonnard v Perryman  2 Ch 269, which prevents claimants from obtaining interim relief in libel proceedings except in the most exceptional circumstances, Mr Justice Murray refused that part of Mr Jagwani’s application, finding that a defence by Ms Alles on truth and/or honest opinion was not bound to fail.
As for the harassment claim, Murray J noted that the threshold test was not whether there was a serious issue to be tried, but whether “the court is satisfied that the applicant is likely to establish that publication should not be allowed”, as required by s 12(3) of the Human Rights Act 1998. This was because Ms Alles’s rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to freedom of expression were engaged.
Mr Jagwani had met Ms Kiran Parwani, who was a Singapore national of Indian origin, on a dating app. Ms Parwani subsequently travelled to the UK where she married Mr Jagwani. Mr Jagwani said that he then separated from Ms Parwani for various reasons. The couple were subsequently divorced. Ms Parwani then filed a complaint against Mr Jagwani in India, alleging that he had deserted her and that she had been physically, sexually and psychologically abused by him.
Mr Jagwani said that Ms Alles contacted him by telephone, alleging that he had abused Ms Parwani, and sent him a text. Ms Alles then published an article on the internet headlined: “Indian bride, used, abused and discarded by East London school teacher”, which Mr Jagwani considered false and defamatory. Mr Jagwani said that Ms Alles also shared the article on Twitter and Facebook and made further online references to it, as well as making further untrue and defamatory statements through social media posts. Ms Alles also tagged the article to the Twitter account of the school where he worked. Mr Jagwani also asserted that Ms Alles incited protests and violence against him through a social media post in which she included a quote from Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, tagged #JustWaitWeAreComingForYou.
Murray J did not doubt that Mr Jagwani had been distressed and made ill by the article, its re-publication and by adverse comments made in social media posts about him and/or his conduct. Murray J was not, however, satisfied that the conduct Mr Jagwani described was “of an order which would sustain criminal liability under section 2 [of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997]” (Majrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust  UKHL 34).
In Murray J’s view, Ms Alles’s conduct did “not even come close to that line”. Ms Alles had contacted Mr Jagwani only once directly by telephone and had sent him one text message. Mr Jagwani’s case was therefore harassment by publication of allegedly false and defamatory statements through publication of the article and its re-publication on various websites, as well as comments made on social media.
Considering the guidance in Thomas v News Group Newspapers Ltd  EWCA Civ 1233, Murray J could not conclude that the article and Ms Alles’s related social media comments were “attended by some exceptional circumstance which justifies sanctions and the restriction on the freedom of expression that they involve”. Mr Jagwani strenuously denied the allegations, but that was not sufficient to justify restricting Ms Alles’s right of freedom of expression by way of interim injunction.
There was no clear evidence that clearly established that Ms Parwani’s allegations, reported by Ms Alles and clearly believed by her, were false. Murray J said that the evidence that had so far been made available should be properly tested at trial.
As for the post quoting from The Handmaid’s Tale, Murray J did not consider that it amounted to a serious incitement to violence against Mr Jagwani, given that it did not mention him. It was “deliberately heightened speech … intended to have a rhetorical effect, but nothing more”.
Accordingly, Murray J was not satisfied that Mr Jagwani was likely to establish at trial that continued publication of the article or related comments by Ms Alles should not be allowed. Mr Jagwani might succeed, he said, if the matter proceeded to trial, but the evidence fell short of showing that he was likely to succeed. The interim injunction was refused. (Kabir Kumar Manohar Jagwani v Poonam Joshi Alles  EWHC 2887 (QB) (30 October 2019) — to read the judgment in full, click here).