First published on the Brett Wilson Media Law Blog on 1 August 2016

In Ghuman v Ghuman [2016] EWHC 1783 (QB), Sukhjit ‘Sukhi’ Ghuman sued his brother, Harpreet ‘Ricky’ Ghuman for slander, in respect of comments allegedly made in a telephone call in November 2013.

The Claim pre-dated the commencement of the Defamation Act 2013, and therefore the ‘serious harm’ [to reputation] test did not apply. The slander was said to be actionable per se because the alleged words were calculated to damage Sukhi Ghuman’s reputation in business.

The siblings had a long history of arguments and reconciliations. In the latter part of 2013, the two were at loggerheads. On 21 November 2013 the two brothers spoke on the telephone, and then engaged in a long text message conversation with one another, which Dingemans J described as ‘offensive and puerile’ and showing both brothers ‘in a poor light’.  Around the same period of time, Ricky Ghuman was said to have telephoned another set of brothers, the Khanguras, and alleged, inter alia, that his brother was a thief, and a crook, and that his company had debts, and was committing tax fraud. Sukhi Ghuman commenced proceedings against his brother for slander in December 2013.

From the outset, it appears that neither Sukhi Ghuman, nor his witnesses, could say precisely when the telephone call had taken place, or precisely what had been said.  Ricky Ghuman denied that he had made the call.  It would be some two and a half years before the matter reached trial, by which time, according to Dingemans J, both brothers had ‘managed to drag immediate and extended family members and friends into their dispute, forcing them to choose sides’ and had ‘caused disproportionate amounts of costs to be incurred’.  After a six-day trial, Dingemans J dismissed the claim, as he could not be satisfied that a telephone call took place in the terms which had been pleaded.

Comment

This case, unremarkable in and of itself, is a reminder that slander claims will only succeed in circumstances where there is clear evidence of the precise words spoken.  It is also, perhaps, a warning that a defamation claim is not a pragmatic remedy in many circumstances, entailing, as it frequently does, years of litigation, at great cost, with both parties subject to regrettable exposure.