The 23 year old pro British tennis player was stopped in his tracks mid game recently (28 April 2010) as Mrs Justice Sharp gave summary judgment in the Libel action Dee had issued against the Daily Telegraph. The court agreed with the newspapers that Dee had no real prospect of rebutting the Daily Telegraph’s defence of justification (which effectively means “the truth”).
An article was published with the heading “World’s worst tennis pro wins at last” and as a result of the distress this caused Dee stated that the BBC had paid him a substantial amount of money and that 35 other organisations had apologised for the incorrect reports.
When Dee issued a claim against the Daily Telegraph, (who actually published the original article on the front page in April 2008), they wouldn’t lie down so easily and made an application to the High Court for a summary judgment. For avoidance of doubt a summary judgment is a civil procedural device whereby either a claimant or defendant (or indeed a judge) can call upon the courts to dispose of a case without the need for a full trial. The reason one would make an application for summary judgment is because they believe the claim or defence has no real prospects of success.
In English law there is a presumption that any defamatory statement made is false and therefore the burden lies on the defendant to prove that it is true. The Daily Telegraph relied on the defence of justification and submitted to Mrs Justice Sharp that Dee has no real prospect of rebutting that justification. Arguably it was the statistics that spoke for themselves as Dee had a run of 54 consecutive defeats during which he did not win one set in tournaments that were under the jurisdiction of the ITF and ATP, which are world ranking tournaments. This record is apparently the worst ever run of consecutive losses on the international professional circuit.
The submission effectively was that the effect of these statistics meant that Dee had nothing to complain about that could not be justified and therefore the defence of justification must succeed. A large number of media outlets that also covered this story are probably wishing they hadn’t thrown in the racket so easily!